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224 Benefit Street 
Providence, Rl 02903 
United States 

Issue — 8 / Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

RISD Museum director: 

John W. Smith 
Manual Editor-in-chief: 

Sarah Ganz Blythe 
Editor: Amy Pickworth 
Art director: Derek Schusterbauer 
Graphic designers: 

Brendan Campbell 
June Shin 

Erik Gould (unless otherwise noted) 
Printer: GHP 

Special thanks to Denise Bastien, 

Gina Borromeo, Linda Catano, Sionan 
Guenther, Jan Howard, Ingrid Neuman, 
Maureen C. O’Brien, Emily Peters, 
Alexandra Poterack, Britany Salsbury, 
Glenn Stinson, and Elizabeth A. Williams. 

This issue of Manual is supported in 
part by a grant from the Rhode Island 
State Council on the Arts, through 
an appropriation by the Rhode Island 
General Assembly and a grant from 
the National Endowment for the Arts. 
Additional generous support is provided 
by the RISD Museum Associates and 

Manual: a journal about art and its 
making (ISSN 2329-9193) is produced 
twice yearly by the RISD Museum. 
Contents © 2017 Museum of Art, Rhode 
Island School of Design 

Manual is available at RISD WORKS 
( ) and as a benefit of RISD 
Museum membership ( 
support/ioin ). Back issues can be found 
online at . 
Subscribe to Manual or purchase back 
issues by visiting 
subscribe . Funds generated through 
the sales of Manual support educational 
programs at the RISD Museum. 




Louise Hopkins 
English, b. 1965 
2/7 (detail), 1997 

Oil on reverse of patterned fabric (diptych) 
Overall: 92.7 * 130.8 cm. (36 * 51 y 2 in.) 
Richard Brown Baker Fund for Contemporary 
British Art 2007.18 
© The Artist and courtesy The Artist 

(inside cover) 

Possibly Bromley Hall, textile 


English, 1694-1823 

Furnishing Textile (detail), ca. 1780 

Copperplate printed cotton plain 


Length: 237.5 cm. (9314 in.) 
Georgianna Sayles Aldrich Fund 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

Yinka Shonibare, MBE 
British, b. 1962 

Un Ballo in Maschera (Courtiers V), 2004 
Three mannequins on glass bases, Dutch 
wax-printed cotton fabric, leather shoes 
Overall: 170.2 * 304.8 * 182.9 cm. (67 * 120 * 72 in.) 
Richard Brown Baker Fund for Contemporary 
British Art 2005.52 

© Yinka Shonibare MBE. All Rights Reserved, 
DACS/ ARS, NY 2017 


Mary-Kim Arnold is the author of Litany 
for the Long Moment (Essay Press, 
2017). Her poetry and prose has been 
published in Tin House, The Georgia 
Review, Day One, and Hyperallergic. 

She serves on the Advisory Committee 
for The Rumpus. 

Emily Banas is the curatorial assistant 
of decorative arts and design at the 
RISD Museum, specializing in American 
and European decorative arts, design, 
and craft of the twentieth and twenty- 
first centuries. 

Pia Camil (RISD BFA 2003, Painting) 
lives and works in Mexico City. Recent 
solo exhibitions include Blum & Poe 
and the New Museum (both New York, 
2016) and the Contemporary Arts 
Center (Cincinnati, 2015). Her work 
is associated with the Mexican urban 
landscape, the aesthetic language 
of modernism, and the politics of 

John Dunnigan is a designer, maker, 
and educator. He holds the Schiller 
Family Chair in Furniture Design at RISD. 
As an Andrew W. Mellon Faculty Fellow 
at the RISD Museum, his current 
research includes teaching and learning 
through ancient to contemporary 

Claudia J. Ford Claudia J. Ford is a 
visual artist, and ethnobotanist, and she 
has worked globally investigating the 
links between indigenous ecological 
knowledge and sustainable social and 
environmental systems. Her research 
on Inuit art was supported by a RISD 
Liberal Arts/Museum Faculty Summer 

Kate Irvin is the RISD Museum's 
head curator of costume and textiles. 
Her most recent exhibition is All of 
Everything: Todd Oldham Fashion 
(2016), and her upcoming shows include 
Repair: Thrift to Resistance. With Laurie 
Brewer, Irvin authored Artist/Rebel/ 
Dandy: Men of Fashion (Yale University 
Press, 2013). 

Josie Johnson is a graduate student 
in the History of Art and Architecture 
Department at Brown University and 
the current graduate proctor in the 
Department of Prints, Drawings, and 
Photographs at the RISD Museum. 

Dominic Molon is the Richard Brown 
Baker Curator of Contemporary Art 
at the RISD Museum. His next project, 
scheduled to open in April 2018, is a 
major presentation of the museum's 
contemporary collection, titled 
Everything That Rises Must Converge. 

Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi is an 

artist, art historian, and curator of 
African art at the Hood Museum of 
Art, Dartmouth College. His most 
recent publication is New Spaces for 
Negotiating Art (and) Histories in Africa 
(LIT Verlag, 2015), a book examining 
independent art spaces in Africa. 

Wendy Red Star works across 
disciplines to explore the intersections 
of traditional Native American 
ideologies and colonialist structures, 
both historically and in contemporary 
society. An avid researcher, Red Star 
seeks to incorporate and recast her 
research, offering new and unexpected 
perspectives in work that is inquisitive, 
witty, and unsettling. 

Jessica Urick is the assistant 
conservator of costume and textiles 
at the RISD Museum, where her work 
focuses on preserving the museum's 
textile collection and preparing objects 
for exhibition. Her research interests 
include conservation theory and 
exploring new exhibition techniques. 

Kelly Walters is a multimedia designer 
whose artistic practice investigates the 
intersection of black cultural identity 
and language in mainstream media. 
She holds an MFA in graphic design 
from RISD and is currently an assistant 
professor of graphic design at the 
University of Connecticut. 



Alexandra M. Peck is a PhD student in 
anthropology at Brown University, where 
she studies under professors Robert 
Preucel and Patricia Rubertone. Her 
research interests include Coast Salish 
art, tribal museums, and cultural change 
along the Pacific Northwest Coast. 

Robert W. Preucel is a professor of 
anthropology and the director of the 
Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at 
Brown University. His research interests 
include archaeological theory and 
practice, material semiotics, and Native 
American studies. 


Manual Spring 2017 

Table of Contents 

5 - Introduction 

Give and Take: 

Art As Social Exchange 

Mary-Kim Arnold 

8 - From the Files 

Madonna and Child 

Josie Johnson 

10 - Double Takes 

Jenny Holzer’s Living: 
Affluent college-bound 

Dominic Molon & Kelly Walters 

Unlocking a French 
Drop-Front Secretary 

Emily Banas & John Dunnigan 

loose - Artist on Art 


throughout Diplomats of the 

Crow Nation 

Wendy Red Star 
19 - Object Lesson 

Reciprocal Exchange: 
Hunting, Japanese 
Printmaking, and Inuit 

Claudia J. Ford 

30 - Object Lesson 

The Head in Focus: Benin 
Art and Visual History 

Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi 

43 - Artist on Art 


Pia Camil 

51 - Object Lesson Entanglements 

Robert W. Preucel & Alexandra M. Peck 

6 l - Portfolio 

Loose Links & Clear 

74 - Object Lesson 

“O What a Tangled 
Web We Weave”: 
Intersecting Threads in 
a Scottish Paisley Shawl 

Kate Irvin 

86 - HowTo 

Repair a Dress 

Jessica Urick 


From the Files pries open the archive, 

Double Take looks at one object two different ways, 
Artist on Art offers a creative response by an invited 
artist, Object Lesson exposes the stories behind objects, 
Portfolio presents a series of objects on a theme, 

How To explores the making of an object 

Give and Take: Art As Social Exchange 

Mary-Kim Arnold 

Is there an exchange, is there a resemblance to the sky which is admitted 
to be there and the stars which can be seen. Is there. That was a question. 

-Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons 

The earliest known use of the expression “give and take” can be traced to 
horse racing. It referred to races in which larger, stronger horses carried more 
weight, and smaller ones, less. Implied therein is an accounting for relative 
capacities. In such a race, the goal remains the same—crossing the finish line 
first—but introducing this variable highlights the relationship between the 
competing horses. A win is only meaningful if each horse can be considered 
in relation to the others. 

Contemporary usage typically relies on the notion of “mutual yielding,” which 
seems to have gained currency toward the end of the eighteenth century. 

What remains significant is the emphasis on interconnectedness. Meaning 
is made in the interstitial spaces. 

Artist Sal Randolph uses cash as a literal interpretation of social exchange. 

In a piece she calls Give and Take, she leaves money in public places—on 
a plate or with a note to indicate it’s an intentional act. At times, she will place 
calls for participants in which she gives them a sum of money, and then 
they sit together for a while—forty-five minutes or an hour—to discuss the 
implications of this new relationship the exchange has created between them. 

In Minneapolis, a community art project similarly operates on a framework 
of social exchange. Organized around two questions, What do I know and 
What do I want to know, Give & Take brings members of the public together 
to exchange knowledge, skills, and resources, with the expectation that 
longer-term social cohesion will result. 

In both these examples, at least one aspect of the exchange is visible, concrete 
—in the first case, money changes hands and in the second, an observable 
skill, such as how to upholster a chair or how to plan an event, is taught. What 
I see implicit in both as well is a question of social indebtedness: what does 

Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

living in community require? What does it provide? In connecting one action 
to another, the phrase “give and take” constructs a social narrative. We are now 
in relation to each other through a dynamic, ongoing co-creation. 

Art—in its creation, distribution, valuation, and preservation—has long provoked, 
illuminated, and grappled with questions of social equity, social exchange, 
and social indebtedness, which makes it vulnerable to attack in a culture that 
is deeply invested in the supremacy of the individual. If I believe that it is by 
my action alone that I succeed or fail, then what use is there for others? I simply 
affix my blinders and run the track as fast as I can. 

These are not new questions. We do however, find ourselves in a historical 
moment that makes our interconnectedness both more visible and more 
complex. Boundaries—physical, geographical, ideological—have become 
more porous, and the institutions that have provided structure—while 
always deeply flawed—have shown themselves to be more vulnerable than 
some of us would have liked to believe. Old systems are breaking down, 
giving way. New ones will take hold. 

“Money is a collective dream,” Randolph says of her work. Money is an act of 
social imagination. It is of value because we believe in it. So too, our faith in other 
systems of social construction: political institutions, religion, our concepts of 
race and class. “Customs,” she says, “in any society, develop the force of reality.” 

One role of art is to destabilize the force of reality. To unsettle, to provoke 
inquiry. Like any social narrative, this requires participation. To “take” is also 
to receive, accept. The capacity to take in. 

In Gertrude Stein’s quote above, the oddness of her syntax requires a kind 
of attentiveness to each word, each phrase, each movement from one phrase 
to the next. It is a kind of work—active, present participation—to consider 
the meaning of each word individually and then re-make meaning from the 
arrangement. This is my mind newly encountering Stein’s more than a century 
after the words were written. There is something electric about the recognition 
that these lines are made anew in each encounter, that some new meaning 
arises. And I think, too, of the sky and the stars she invokes, which she has 
attempted to remake with these gestures. The way she offers us sky—as vast 
and unknowable as it is—and we take it with us, if we can. 




Vija Celmins 
American, b. 1939 

Galaxy, from the Untitled Portfolio, 1975 
Lithograph on Twinrocker handmade rag paper 
Sheet: 41.3 x 50.8 cm. (16 % * 20 in.) 

Museum purchase with funds from the National Endowment 
for the Arts 75.110.1 

©Vija Celmins, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

From the Files 

Madonna and Child by Josie Johnson 

This devotional wood sculpture from late-fifteenth-century 
Brussels presents the Virgin Mary as a sweet, attentive 
mother, and Jesus as an energetic, fussy baby, crinkling the 
pages of the book before him. Only the slender crown, 
the sparing use of gold-leaf gilding, and the crescent moon 
beneath Mary’s robes subtly hint at their divinity. By the 
late medieval period, holy figures from the Christian tradition 
were often depicted as familiar and even human; the Virgin 
Mary especially had assumed an important role in medieval 
Christianity as an intercessor to God. The small size of this 
work, and the relatively light weight of the wood, made it an 
ideal portable sculpture—large enough to command a sense 
of presence, but small enough to be moved around. 

Indeed, the sculpture has continued to travel over the last 
century, beginning with its arrival at the RISD Museum in 
1915. In 1943, the museum’s Education Department began 
a program that circulated small, thematic groups of museum 
objects to Providence junior high schools. A photograph from 
the RISD Archives shows that this Madonna and Child was 
the single figural sculpture chosen for a kit labeled “Gothic”; 
its combination of portability, sturdiness, and subtle visual 
interest would have made this sculpture an ideal object 
for teaching young students about medieval European art. 
Unfortunately, these same qualities may have played a role 
in its misplacement—the sculpture was listed as missing 
for two decades until it was rediscovered in 2014, still packed 
in its traveling-exhibition crate from a half-century earlier. 

‘Gothic” travel kit, probably 1940s. Image Courtesy RISD Archives 


South Netherlandish (Brussels) 

Madonna and Child, 1490-1500 


Wood, paint, gilding 
39.4 cm. (15 1/2 in.) 

Gift of Mrs. Gustav Radeke 15.108 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 


Dominic Molon / 
Kelly Walters 

Dominic Molon: Whit Stillman’s 1990 comedy-of- 
manners film Metropolitan features the following 
exchange at a bar between a preppy New York 
college freshman and a slightly older version of his 
probable future self: 

YOUNGER MAN. Do you think it’s true that 
generally speaking, people from [our] background 
are doomed to failure? 

MAN AT BAR, blithely. Doomed? That 
would, uh, be far easier. No, we simply fail without 
being doomed. 

It suggests that—angst aside—the class 
christened by one character as the “urban haute 
bourgeoisie” (UHB for short) is, regardless of its 
failures, ultimately insulated from failure’s true 

The world-weariness of Metropolitan’s older 
UHB character’s response finds a pressing retort 
in Jenny Holzer’s Living series sign work. The man 
at the bar contemplates notions of upper-class 
failure with the casual indifference of whether to eat 
the olive in his martini or not, while Holzer’s work 
conveys a similar sentiment, albeit with a sense of 
urgency and alarm. 

Street signs address a universal audience. 

The class-specificity of Holzer’s work, however, asks, 
How do I read this differently based on my current 
or past (or aspirational) class background or status? 
Its relatively new home at the RISD Museum is 
significant both because of Holzer’s having received 
her MFA from RISD in 1977 and the school’s role as 
a destination for the very “affluent college-bound 
students” her text mentions. (Combined expenses 
of tuition and room and board at RISD total almost 
$60,000 per year.) When seen in the museum’s 


galleries by RISD students—and, presumably, by 
students from the other elite colleges in the region- 
does this work serve as an unwelcome reminder or a 
valuable warning of the uncertain professional road 
that lies ahead? Or does its continued relevance go 
unheeded, considering that it was made more than 
thirty years ago? Given the inconvenient truths laid 
down in Holzer’s texts throughout the years— Abuse 
of Power Comes As No Surprise from her Truisms 
series (1977-1979), for example—students for whom 
the message applies might do well to heed its advice. 

Conversely, Holzer’s sign might offer reassur¬ 
ance to patrician students’ plebian counterparts. 

For the non-UHB, “conventional measures of success” 
rarely need to be “reassessed,” as a college diploma 
is often its own measure of success, whereas entering 
a challenging job market may offer disappointment 
but probably few hardships they haven’t known 
already. While Holzer’s sign might offer the cold 
comfort of knowing that their “affluent college-bound” 
peers “face the real prospect of downward mobility,” 
it could put their own struggles into perspective, and 
provide added motivation plus a better appreciation 
of their competitive field. 

This work’s timeless sangfroid in addressing 
self-consciousness in relationship to class and the 
larger educational system makes it one of the more 
distinctive examples of the Living series’ ability to 
communicate internalized conventional wisdom in an 
insistently external public forum. 

Double Take 





Jenny Holzer 
American, b. 1950 

Living: Affluent college-bound students..., 1980-1982 
From the Living series 
Hand-painted enamel on metal sign 
53.3 x 58.4 cm. (21 x 23 in.) 

Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 2016.5 
© 2017 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), 
New York 



wect of mm 






ii uuciiDronceiiMi 

Double Take 

Jenny Holzer 
American, b. 1950 

Living: Affluent college-bound students ... (detail), 1980-1982 
From the Living series 
Hand-painted enamel on metal sign 
53.3 x 58.4 cm. (21 x 23 in.) 

Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 2016.5 
© 2017 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), 
New York 



Dominic Molon / 
Kelly Walters 

Kelly Walters: In three bold declarative statements, 
Jenny Holzer challenges her audience to consider 
the “plight” of the highly educated college student 
through a series of contradictions. “Affluence” 
is set opposite “downward mobility,” “entitlement” 
is set opposite “imminent scarcity,” and “the end 
of a plentiful era” is met with “reassessment of 
conventional measures of success.” These word 
pairings are carefully chosen in order to identify the 
connection between privilege, success, and higher 
education. While Living: Affluent college-bound 
students ... was originally speaking to an early 
1980s audience, the attitude that is evoked in this 
piece is still relevant today. 

Higher education provides graduates with 
access and power. The ability to move into the job 
market, make money, and establish oneself in a new 
social class can be made possible with a college 
degree. Students that fund their tuition by working 
multiple jobs or through the assistance of student 
loans maintain a more precarious relationship to 
higher education. They must work harder to main¬ 
tain certain grade-point averages or accept more 
financial debt all while in school. At the same time, 
entitlement plagues privileged students like a 
disease. Affluent students who believe they are 
owed a certain level of success upon the completion 
of college operate in space where their access to 
resources including knowledge, professors, peers, 
tools, books, and job opportunities is infinite. 


Holzer exploits this elitist ideology in the 
Living series, and uses bold uppercase text to 
make her message appear even more urgent and 
immediate. The design of the handwritten text 
suggests a highly controlled process compressed to 
fit within a twenty-one by twenty-three-inch metal 
frame. This symbolically represents the voice of 
the affluent college student who feels slighted. The 
feelings of “resentment” and “scarcity” that Holzer 
observes in this same affluent college student 
directly connect to the sense of instability that the 
working college student experiences daily. The 
visual translation of instability comes through in the 
noticeable inconsistencies of each letterform and 
her lack of precision in its execution. 

Ultimately, Holzer wants her viewers to reflect 
and decide on their own terms whether they agree 
with her message. In my opinion, the affluent college 
student is set up for success. If they can eliminate 
their need to have opportunities handed to them, it 
will foster a better work ethic, and their success will 
not just rely on money or social class alone. 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 


Guillaume Beneman, cabinetmaker 
French, b. Germany, d. 1811 
Drop-Front Secretary (Secretaire a Abattant ) 
ca. 1800-1810 

Mahogany and oak with brass and gilded 
bronze mounts, embossed leather, marble top 
143.5 x 114.3 x 42.6 cm. (56% x 45 x 16% in.) 
Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 80.106 

Emily Banas / 
John Dunnigan 


Emily Banas: This richly ornamented piece of furni¬ 
ture surprises with the incorporation of a drop-front 
desk and a section of drawers, concealed below 
by a pair of doors. Known in France as a secretaire 
a abattant or secretaire en armoire , this secretary 
reflects a transition in style from the neoclassical 
period of Louis XVI (reign 1774-1793) to the Empire 
(1800-1815), elegantly incorporating elements of both. 

The overall form and proportions of the piece 
are characteristic of Louis XVI: harmonious in design, 
balanced in proportion, and controlled in form— 
a striking contrast to the curvilinear shapes of the 
Rococo period (ca. 1730-1760). While most French 
furniture of the era featured elaborate marquetry— 
a decorative inlay of various types of wood—this 
piece’s finely crafted gilt-bronze mounts are high¬ 
lighted by expansive areas of undecorated mahogany. 

Thin lines of brass molding demarcate the 
areas of decoration and simultaneously unite 
the facade so that the drop-front desk and the lower 
doors visually become one. The mounts and orna¬ 
ments are markedly Empire in style, their influence 
drawn from Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, which 
began in 1798. Beyond being a military endeavor, the 
expedition into Egypt revealed numerous forms, 
styles, and ideas that were diligently captured and 
disseminated in a number of publications. Works 
such as Description de I’Egypte (1809), Voyage dans 
la Basse et la Haute Egypte (1802) by Dominique- 
Vivant Denon, and Recueil de Decorations Interieures 

(1812) by Charles Percier and Pierre-Francois- 
Leonard Fontaine provided designers with 
a wealth of visual inspiration. 

Egyptian figures form the desk’s front columns, 
each figure wearing a gold headdress known as the 
nemes, which is associated with the pharaoh. Their 
elongated rectilinear bodies are perched on deli¬ 
cately carved feet and ornamented in the center 
with what appears to be the Rod of Asclepius—the 
serpent-coiled staff of the Greek god of medicine. 

A pair of opposing lionesses lies under the arch, their 
paws echoed in the claw feet on which the secretary 
perches. Whimsical fairy-like figures anchor the cen¬ 
ter of the facade. Their bodies morph into twisting 
and curving acanthus leaves and vines, contrasting 
with the ridged lines that contain them. Below the 
gray marble top runs a narrow frieze-like band with 
a palm-leaf motif, characteristic of the ancient Greek 
and Roman designs that were revived during the 
Empire period. 

Two stamps emblazoned on the exterior iden¬ 
tify this piece as the work of Guillaume Beneman, a 
German cabinetmaker who settled in Paris in 1784 
and became a maitre ebeniste the following year, gar¬ 
nering favor with the Crown. Although stamps were 
obligatory for every master cabinetmaker in Paris by 
the 1750s, the regulation was embraced by makers, 
who viewed it both as a sign of quality and a mode of 
publicity for their work. A marriage of fine craftsman¬ 
ship and functionality, this secretaire is likely one of 
last pieces Beneman created. 

Double Take 

Give and Take 

Double Take 

Guillaume Beneman, cabinetmaker 
French, b. Germany, d. 1811 
Drop-Front Secretary (Secretaire a AbattanO 
ca. 1800-1810 

Mahogany and oak with brass and gilded 
bronze mounts, embossed leather, marble top 
143.5 x 114.3 x 42.6 cm. (56% x 45 x 16% in.) 
Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 80.106 



Emily Banas / 
John Dunnigan 

John Dunnigan: My first encounter with the 
secretaire a abattant by Guillaume Beneman was 
many years ago when it was acquired by the RISD 
Museum, locked and without keys. The curator of 
decorative arts showed me some loose panels on 
the back, and I remember how intrigued I was as we 
examined the case and discussed how to get into it. 

Since then, I've stood in front of the Beneman 
secretary with many students and asked how you 
“get into” something like this. The ensuing exchange 
of ideas often begins with questions about the gilt- 
bronze mounts, which stand out immediately as an 
odd assortment of historical references with different 
levels of abstraction and degrees of plasticity. We 
soon realize there is an interesting dynamic between 
the strange but symmetrical mounts and the case. 
One of the reasons this composition works is because 
the underlying surface is uniform, which is made 
possible by the mahogany wood. 

Swietenia mahagoni Jacquin is a tropical 
wood without notable contrast in annual rings, which 
produces a consistency of grain and color. Valued 
for its remarkable workability, durability, size, and 
unique appearance, mahogany’s most significant 
use in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was 
to signify the owner’s status, which was reflected 
in its polished surfaces. The mahogany used in the 
Beneman secretary was probably taken from Saint- 
Domingue, a French colony until slave rebellions 
created the independent nation of Haiti in 1804, 
restricting French access. By then, most of the 
Caribbean’s ancient virgin forests had been cut down. 


Little is known about the workers who har- ^ 

vested the raw materials for this piece, but records 


show that Guillaume Beneman, trained in Germany, 
was elevated to the rank of maitre ebeniste in 1785 in 
Paris and appointed principal cabinetmaker for the 
Garde-Meuble de la Couronne , which supplied the 
French royal residences with furniture. Beneman sur¬ 
vived the collapse of the Ancien Regime, and during 
the Revolution and Directoire periods (1789-1804), 
much of his work involved repurposing older fur¬ 
niture by replacing royal insignia and recycling old 
parts into new furniture. By the beginning of the 
Empire period, Beneman was creating original works 
in collaboration with the sculptor Pierre-Philippe 
Thomire (1751-1843), and the RISD secretary, which 
demonstrates that artistic give and take, comes from 
this mature period at the end of Beneman’s career. 

The secretary would have served as an office, 
giving its owner a place to write letters, lock up 
documents, and hide valuables. In the upper interior, 
the central drawers open only by pressing a button 
hidden behind the upper right drawer. In the lower 
interior, an even more ingenious pair of secret 
compartments beneath the bottom drawer can only 
be accessed by pressing two hidden sets of spring- 
loaded release mechanisms. 

We can start to unlock the Beneman secretary 
by asking what we see, and by considering how 
materials and people contributed to the larger 
culture of production. We can even wonder what our 
secretary might have witnessed, and what secrets 
it contained. These suggest that there are multiple 
keys for “getting into it.” 


[note on this digital edition] 

Wendy Red Star’s Artist on Art contribution, 
Diplomats of the Crow Nation , was originally 
published as individual photographs with 
accompanying text on the back and inserted 
throughout the magazine. They are reproduced 
here all together for clarity on screen. 

of the 

Crow Nation 

Wendy Red Star 

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1573 Crow Delegation 

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Wendy Red Star, Diplomats of the Crow Nation, 2017 

On October 21,1873, Crow chiefs Sits In The Middle Of 
The Land (also referred to as Blackfoot), Iron Bull, Long 
Horse, Bear Wolf, White Calf, Mo-mukh-pi-tche, Old 
Crow, and One Who Leads The Old Dog, and their wives 
Pretty Medicine Pipe, Stays With The Horses, Mrs. 

Sits In The Middle Of The Land, and Mrs. Iron Bull set 
off on a long journey to Washington, D.C., by horse and 
train. Known as the Crow Delegation, they represented 
the Crow Nation’s concerns about U.S. State Department 
intentions to reduce Crow territory and relocate the 
agency, as well as the encroachment of enemy tribes on 
vital Crow hunting grounds. 


Sits In The Middle Of The Land and Mrs. Sits In The Middle Of The Land 

Artist on Art 


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Wendy Red Star, Diplomats of the Crow Nation, 2017 

The Crow Delegation, along with Agent Pease and 
interpreters Frank Shane and Bernard Prero would 
meet with Secretary of State Columbus Delano and 
President Ulysses S. Grant to discuss these matters. 
However, during their stay in Washington D.C., they 
were overwhelmed with a “red-carpet treatment” that 
derailed their own agenda in favor of that of the U.S. 
government under the Grant administration, known 
for scandal and corruption. 


Bear Wolf and Stays With The Horses 

Artist on Art 

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Wendy Red Star, Diplomats of the Crow Nation, 2017 

At the start, the undertaking of the Crow Delegation 
was optimistically yet patronizingly described in the 
Bozeman Avant Courier as follows: 

A delegation of Chiefs of Mountain Crow Indians 
left Bozeman yesterday morning for Washington 
in charge of Major F.D. Pease, on a visit to the 
President. We doubt if a finer body of Indians 
ever visited the Great Father before. They are fine- 
looking, remarkably intelligent, and have always 
been true friends of the whites. Blackfoot and 
Iron Bull are the most prominent chiefs in 
this part. We bespeak for these noble red men 
a kind reception and hope that the President and 
Indian Department will be liberal and generous 
to them, for these Crows have conducted 
themselves towards the whites in this section much 
better than Indians generally do on the border. 


Iron Bull and Mrs. Iron Bull 

Artist on Art 

Wendy Red Star, Diplomats of the Crow Nation, 2017 

The Crow chiefs and their wives experienced many 
firsts as they travelled more than two thousand miles 
to Washington D.C. Several of the delegation members 
became ill during the train ride from Salt Lake to St. 
Louis. Where ever they went, crowds of gawking people 
surrounded them and made it difficult to walk the 
streets and get to their hotels. 


Old Crow and Pretty Medicine Pipe 

Artist on Art 

C' of Pv*jfTlL OwcWtA) 

/* 4 liO TW lOaoAa 

*&?* i £»/' -wn 

^* v 


■j/,.><f * 
^ ?*■* 


v* , . 


flotf rtuf r«^ 

Khs (*«4 
lofctfjw JUs 

&, Crfru) 

5 cd^ ^* e / 

^ c 


AjJi.TU/ p^« 

wi ^s* 10 l\ 

Wendy Red Star, Diplomats of the Crow Nation, 2017 

Once in D.C., they were supplied with cigars, theater 
tickets, grapes, raisins, alcohol, and outings to 
the nearby attractions of Mount Vernon, Arlington 
Cemetery, and Rock Creek Park. 


Mo-mukh-pi-tche, Thin Belly and One Who Leads The Old Dog 

Artist on Art 

Wendy Red Star, Diplomats of the Crow Nation, 2017 

The Crow chiefs were also exposed to “extras” of a 
darker kind of entertainment. Visits to brothel houses 
and burlesque shows were arranged by Benjamin 
F. Beveridge, a D.C. saloon keeper, whose family was 
sustained by the delegation business for more than fifty 
years. This scandal and misuse of government funds 
was uncovered by government auditors while reviewing 
expenditures relating to Indian affairs. 


Long Horse, Sits In The Middle of The Land, and White Calf 

Artist on Art 

U3e^ Iwt WfctJ ilnct d&ys, a W wy fa 
i 5 W" fiW. A vj 

d<r cVvt^NfJ*— 


Wendy Red Star, Diplomats of the Crow Nation, 2017 

Ironically, a more obvious clue to these tantalizing 
“extras” is provided from an official group portrait of the 
Crow Delegation. In the photo, each chief proudly holds 
a peacock feather duster. The chiefs, accompanied by 
Agent Pease, were entertained by a fan dancer, and were 
so impressed with her performance they asked to meet 
her after the show. The dancer gave each of the chiefs 
a peacock feather duster, and in the Crow custom of 
showing reciprocation, the chiefs gifted their eagle fans 
in return. As a consequence, when the chiefs returned 
to Montana, a new fashion trend was born. Sub-chiefs 
and young Crow men were eager to acquire their own 
feather dusters. The demand was so high that a local 
trader began to supply the dusters. Photographs of Crow 
men well into the 1900s depict them toting around their 
feather dusters on horseback and including them in 
formal studio portraits. 


Artist on Art 

Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 


Object Lesson 

Reciprocal Exchange 

Hunting, Japanese Printmaking, 
and Inuit Artists 

Claudia J. Ford 

An Inuit hunter stands in an attitude of calm strength 
over the breathing hole of a seal. His harpoon appears 
to be holstered across two forked sticks; it is close at 
hand, but not in a ready-to-strilce position. This stonecut 
print is Seal Hunter [Fig. 1], one of a collection of thirty- 
five Inuit prints, drawings, and engravings gifted to the 
RISD Museum by Canadians Alma and James Houston. 
The image was drawn by Joseph Pootoogook and printed 
as part of the inaugural collection of the West Baffin 
Eskimo Co-operative, an artists group located at the 
western end of the Hudson Strait, just below the Arctic 
Circle on the southern tip of Baffin Island. 


Joseph Pootoogook 

Canadian (Inuit), 1887-1958 

Lukta Qiatsuk, printer 

Canadian (Inuit), 1928-2004 

Seal Hunter, ca. 1957 

Stonecut print on paper 

Sheet: 31.8 * 23.8 cm. (12 y 2 * 9 3 A in.) 

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James A. Houston 77.148.1 
© Dorset Fine Arts 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

Inuit artists began working with Houston in a one-room shop erected 
in late 1956, and the 1959 inaugural collection of this remote (yet con¬ 
sequently celebrated) co-operative marked the beginning of an unusual 
confluence of artistic encounters and exchanges. The West Baffin Eskimo 
Co-operative was the setting for interactions between Japanese and Inuit 
printmaking traditions and techniques, as well as the site of a community 
art-studio culture of interchange and experimentation. Artists from the 
early years, including Pootoogook, were actively documenting the encoun¬ 
ters, exchanges, and challenges of the traditional nomadic life of the Inuit, 
and the connections between humans and nature, environment and 
community, family and spiritual customs, and significant Inuit hunting 
rituals, especially for caribou and seal. 

I am fascinated with the strong beauty of the seal hunter’s pose. 

What seems at first glance to be merely a simple picture of a facet of 
Inuit life reveals itself, with deeper inspection, to be the outlines of an 
important story of indigenous ecological knowledge and traditions. 

For thousands of years the Inuit people of the circumpolar Arctic commu¬ 
nities lived completely enmeshed in the rhythms and demands of a harsh 
and unforgiving environment. Inuit peoples’ survival was never guaran¬ 
teed. Their thriving for generations in this stark landscape could only 
be the result of carefully following the knowledge and traditions of their 
ancestors, handed down from person to person and across communities, 
through story and ritual. These traditional narratives were exchanges 
of the critical, profound knowledge associated with long-term occupancy 
of a specific place. They were tales of cultural and environmental survival. 

Seal Hunter depicts a familiar scene from circumpolar hunting 
societies, involving what Canadian anthropologist Paul Nadasdy calls a 
long-term relationship of “reciprocal exchange.” In Inuit and neighboring 
indigenous societies, it is considered that the animal controls the hunt, 
gifting themselves to a skilled hunter who incurs a debt of humility and 
respect towards the animal, enacted through culturally specific and care¬ 
ful rituals for the killing, sharing, and full use of the animal’s remains. 1 
Hunting was, and in many societies still is, considered a spiritual, holy 
occupation, undertaken solely for food and clothing and never for sport. 
All aspects of the hunt were ritual elements that indicated respect for 
the animal and ensured the hunter’s success. 

Pootoogook’s hunter waits at the seal’s air hole, dressed warmly in 
a traditional Inuit parka, standing in front of a wall of ice where he might 
remain for hours, in blustery minus-sixty-degree weather. The work is 
marked by strong lines of sharp positive to negative contrast, making max¬ 
imum use of the graphic impact and eloquence of the black and white 

Object Lesson 

FIG. 2 

Joseph Pootoogook 
Canadian (Inuit), 1887-1958 
Lukta Qiatsuk, printer 
Canadian (Inuit), 1928-2004 
Seal Hunter (detail), ca. 1957-1959 
Stonecut print on paper 
Sheet: 31.8 * 23.8 cm. (12 y 2 * 9 3 A in.) 

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James A. Houston 77.148.1 
© Dorset Fine Arts 

print, noticeable in the rendering of the expressive face of the hunter 
and the subtle movement of the seal. In addition to the hunter’s attitude 
of stoic strength and calm, there is a hint of humor to Pootoogook’s 
portrayal. The seal has acknowledged the hunter’s not-yet-lethal presence 
by playfully sticking its nose up through the air hole. The effect is that 
of a conversation between animal and hunter, a relationship of respect 
and reciprocity. 

Viewing Seal Hunter, I am reminded of the seriousness of the envi¬ 
ronmental crises that we all currently face, especially the Arctic circumpo¬ 
lar Inuit communities. These are challenges that demand an attitude 
of deep curiosity and commitment. When I was given the opportunity 
to pursue doctoral studies at Antioch University’s Environmental Studies 
program, I decided to devote myself to considering and understanding 
indigenous ecological knowledge. This course of study appealed to me for 
a number of reasons. Personally, I was interested in further exploration 
of the roots of my father’s Native American heritage. I was also curious 
to understand more about the indigenous cul¬ 
tures and environmental traditions of the people 
I had worked with during the thirty years I spent 
employed in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. 

What I discovered is that while Western cul¬ 
ture is predisposed to control, subdue, consume, 
or exploit nature, indigenous cultures were and 
remain committed to understanding the mutual¬ 
ity of the relationships between the environment, 
humans, and other elements and living beings. 

This commitment to a deep knowledge of place is 
the foundation of decision-making in the face of 
novel or unusual challenges. This connectedness 
has always been the basis of a sustainable way of 
life for the Inuit and other indigenous societies. 
This commitment and connectedness are beauti¬ 
fully portrayed in Pootoogook’s Seal Hunter. 

We know that Seal Hunter is Joseph 
Pootoogook’s work because of the first of three 
small seals on the lower left of the print [Fig. 2]. 

The artists, printers, and the West Baffin Eskimo 
Co-operative placed their seals on editions of 
thirty to fifty prints in the early years of co-opera¬ 
tive shows, under the direction of James Houston. 
Houston worked as a civil servant of the Canadian 






Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

federal government and was posted in Cape Dorset from 1956 to 1962 
with his wife and two young children. A trained artist, he had studied in 
Ontario and Paris and had well-established skills as an illustrator. As 
a Canadian government officer, and to encourage the economic poten¬ 
tial of Inuit arts, Houston—with the help of Joseph Pootoogook’s son, 
Kananginak Pootoogook—created the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative 
as an artists’ shop and design studio. By the time that the co-operative 
was founded, Houston had already been involved in Inuit arts and crafts 
for ten years, encouraging the artistic talents and international market 
potential of Inuit artists, beginningwith the men’s traditional carvings 
of serpentine sea stone, walrus ivory, caribou antler and whalebone incis¬ 
ing, and the women’s folk arts of sealskin and caribou-skin applique. 
From the studio’s beginnings, Houston actively supported the establish¬ 
ment of a collaborative culture of group proofing, printing, trial and 
error, and experimentation, and the space eventually functioned as print 
studio, archival center, source of supplies, and marketing company. 
Joseph Pootoogook was an elder leader in the Cape Baffin Inuit commu¬ 
nity when Houston and the initial group of Inuit artists set up the shop, 
and Kananginak Pootoogook was one of the original members of the 
co-operative. Father and son collaborated on prints at the co-op, with 
Joseph supplying drawings that were translated into stone carvings and 
printed by Kananginak. The practice of collaborative studio work, often 
across generations and within families, continues today in Cape Dorset’s 
Inuit community. 

Houston spent October 1958 through February 1959 in Japan, study¬ 
ing with many of the leading Japanese printmakers of the mid-twentieth 
century, especially celebrated woodblock printmaker Hiratsuka Un’ichi. 
During these four months, Houston worked six days a week, ten to twelve 
hours a day as an advanced student in Hiratsuka’s studios, learning and 
practicing the techniques, tools, and aesthetic impact of the most impor¬ 
tant schools of Japanese printmaking. Direct hand-transfer woodcut 
printmaking is a centuries-old Japanese tradition, and Hiratsuka consid¬ 
ered Houston a serious and gifted student. 2 When Houston returned to 
Cape Dorset in the winter of 1959, he came back with new skills and car¬ 
ried examples of celebrated Japanese prints that were hung in the studio 
for the aesthetic inspiration and technical direction of the Inuit artists. 
Houston and the first group of West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative artists 
and printmakers worked collaboratively, assimilating, translating, and 
transforming Japanese print techniques to suit the visual language of 
traditional Inuit subject matter. Work had begun in the little shop before 

Object Lesson 

Houston’s trip, mostly experimenting with technique and producing 
small works such as Christmas cards. We are not certain of exactly when 
Joseph Pootoogook drew his seal hunter, or whether it was made before 
or after Houston returned from Japan. We do know that Seal Hunter was 
an early product of the co-operative, and included in the group’s 1959 
inaugural collection—the first published, catalogued, and exhibited body 
of work following Houston’s trip to Japan. 

Adapting Japanese techniques and tools to Inuit skills and experi¬ 
ences, the Cape Dorset artists experimented with relief printing and 
color stencils, creating linoleum and other block prints on fabric, and 
linocuts and stone prints on a variety of Japanese and other imported 
hand-made papers. The Inuit artists made new tools based on traditional 23 

Japanese printmaking knives, chisels, and barens (a tool used to apply ^ 

pressure to the block to transfer the ink), using locally available materials 88 

such as sealskin for barens, caribou antlers for chisel handles, and polar 
bear hairs for brushes. This Japanese-to-Inuit cultural exchange was tech¬ 
nical, aesthetic, and personal. 3 The Inuit artists appreciated the simple 
modernist style of the Japanese masters; they recreated and transformed 
this style through illustrations of Inuit myths, Arctic animals, hunting 
scenes, and family life. 

At the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, artists, designers, draught- 
spersons, and printers worked separately but in collaboration. All artists, 
at all stages of the creative process, had creative agency, and while Inuit 
men were traditionally stone carvers and so drew on their skills for the 
carving of stone blocks, almost immediately Inuit women joined in print 
designs and illustrations, even bringing paper back to their homes to 
draw while attending to their families and domestic duties. The results 
of this gender-inclusive studio culture of interchange, collaboration, and 
experimentation are seen in the robust, still ongoing annual print col¬ 
lections that pull their vigor from multiple, simultaneous perspectives 
on the work produced. Inuit women quickly became indispensable to the 
co-operative, and they continue to be among the leading artists as the 
print collections are successfully marketed to Western audiences. 

Pitseolak Ashoona is one of Canada’s most celebrated female artists. 

Her drawings illustrate the stories of her life as a girl, a mother, and a wife. 

Pitseolak worked with the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative for twenty- 
five years, during which time she amassed a prolific collection of more 
than nine thousand images, of which 233 became prints in the official 
Baffin Island collections and were shown in more than one hundred 
group and solo exhibitions. Pitseolak recorded the traditional past of the 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

Inuit nomadic hunting society, who moved from camp to camp, living in 
igloos and skin tents depending on the weather, hunting seal, caribou, 
and sometimes polar bear, according to the season. 4 Pitseolak first began 
drawing as a young widow left with six children. Her art was a way to bring 
money into the house, as she could take her drawings to the co-operative 
and be paid for them even before they became prints or part of the official 
collections. Relying on this modest but steady income, Pitseolak’s family 
was able to somewhat ease the economic transition from traditional migra¬ 
tory-camp life to a more settled existence in Cape Dorset. 

Caribou are the most plentiful large mammal of arctic and subarctic 
North America, and hold special importance in the traditional economies 
of these areas. “Caribou” is a French appropriation of xalibu or qualipu , 
the Mi’kmaq word for “snow shoveler.” During annual fall migrations, 
the caribou are searching for easy access to their favorite food and a previ¬ 
ously known place to give birth. The pregnant females lead the migrating 
herd. Leaving the cold taiga behind, heading south towards a warmer 
tundra at speeds of up to fifty miles per hour, the females travel to their 
lichen-rich birthing grounds. Indigenous hunters of the caribou, such 
as the Inuit, might hunt during fall migrations, or they might observe 
these migrations and hunt the caribou during the summer months. The 
Inuit have had an indispensable, multigenerational relationship with 
the caribou. The caribou, like the seal, are vital to every facet of Inuit life. 
Caribou are eaten as food and used to create clothing, tools, toys, tents, 
and the lamp oil that heats and lights igloos during the total darkness 
of winter. The lichens eaten by the caribou are a traditional food of Inuit 
hunters, who ceremonially consume the stomach contents of a freshly 
killed animal, grateful for access to this nutrient-rich, energy-dense food 
during a hunt. 

Enhanced by printer Iyola Kingsatsiak’s stenciled background, 
Caribou Hunt [Fig. 3] shows us hunters waiting behind or within a natural 
shelter. The stencil technique seen here was honed from the Japanese 
samples and instructions that Houston brought from Japan to Cape Dorset 
five years earlier. The lines and textures of Pitseolak’s drawing permit 

Fig. 3 

Pitseolak Ashoona 
(Canadian) Inuit, ca.1904-1983 
Iyola Kingwatsiak, printer 
Canadian (Inuit),1933-2000 
Caribou Hunt, 1964 

Stonecut print with stencil on rice paper 
Sheet: 33 * 51.4 cm. (13 * 20 % in.) 

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James A. Houston 77.148.3 

us to appreciate that the caribou hunters’ approach 
their task with the same formality and respect as the 
seal hunter. The relationship of exchange and reci¬ 
procity between animal and hunter is clear in Caribou 

Dorset Fine Arts 

Hunt- hunters and animals begin their relationship by 
closely observing each other. Pitseolak’s graphic ele¬ 
ments and composition also allow us to see movement 
and activity amongst the waiting hunters. One hunter 

Object Lesson 


Give and Take 

$ • $ v. fet*- 


Object Lesson 

appears to be scrambling over to join the other two. Typically, hunters 
would silently hold a finger (or fingers) aloft to indicate to their compan¬ 
ions the number of animals that had appeared in the hunting ground. 

Humorously, the two hunters with weapons each hold up a different 
number. Could it be that the vantage point of the hunter on the right only 
allows him to see one of the two animals? 

Woman with Doll [Fig. 4], one of Pitseolak’s most recognized prints, 
relates to Inuit hunting traditions from a specifically gendered vantage 
point. Pitseolak’s husband had been an eminent huntsman, enjoying 
great success in both seal and caribou hunting. Due to her husband’s pro¬ 
wess, Pitseolak had easy access to hides and became a noted seamstress, 
and her attention to costume and dress is evident in her drawings, espe- 27 

cially in this print. In Woman with Doll , the carefully drawn design of the ^ 

hooded parka is regionally specific, and indicates the Kingnimuit Inuit 88 

family to which the woman belongs. The caribou skin is a source of pride 
for the Inuit seamstress; it has been hunted by her husband and is the 
material from which her traditional clothing is made. Pitseolak depicts 
her subject standing on the caribou hide to indicate this fundamental 
relationship. The doll could have been made by the woman when she was 
a young girl, as a means of developing her skills as a seamstress. The doll 
is held high in the woman’s hand, and might also be considered an amu¬ 
let or good-luck token. As an artist, Pitseolak noticed and precisely por¬ 
trayed the details of the clothes, the relationships, and the chores of Inuit 
community life from a woman’s perspective. 

The artistic and spiritual aspects of material culture have always 
been critical to indigenous peoples. Inspired by Japanese printmaking 
technical skills and examples, Pootoogook, Pitseolak, and the dozens 
of other Inuit artists associated with the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative 
have studied the use of printmaking tools and techniques. They have 
applied the graphic elements of texture, balance, line, and color to depict 
the aesthetics of everyday Inuit life found in traditional practices and 
utilitarian cultural objects. The Cape Dorset print and drawing collections 
rapidly became and are still known worldwide for their technically sophis¬ 

ticated, strikingly beautiful renderings of indigenous 

Fig. 4 

Canadian (Inuit), ca. 1904-1983 
Lukta Qiatsuk, printer 
Canadian (Inuit), 1928-2004 
Woman with Doll, 1964 
Stonecut print on paper 
Sheet: 53.3 * 37.2 cm. (21 * 14 5 A in.) 

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James A. Houston 77.148.2 

realism. Autobiographical, ecological, and historical, they 

incorporate large amounts of humor, myth, and fantasy. 

Dorset Fine Arts 

In these stonecut prints from the RISD Museum col¬ 
lection, the Inuit reveal themselves as part of nature; they 
establish that they live within a network of environmental 
relationships, with a deep knowledge of the rhythms of 
their landscape. Inuit culture embraces spiritual values, 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

traditions, and practices reflecting these connections to their culture, to 
each other, and to the living earth. Inuit culture is grounded in a web of 
relationships of respect and reciprocity, with reverence and gratitude for 
the wisdom of elders. 

It is important to consider the environmental and social crises that 
the Inuit currently face—particularly the rapid climate change in the 
circumpolar regions, and the state and corporate violence and exploita¬ 
tion of natural resources done to Inuit communities, resulting in high 
rates of poverty, trauma, and suicide within those communities. While 
the Inuit have always lived a low-carbon sustainable lifestyle and do not 
greatly contribute to human-mediated climate change, theirs are among 
the world’s most climate-change-affected communities. Melting sea 
ice, reduced snow cover, and thawing permafrost have already reduced 
and made more inaccessible the animals that are part of traditional 
Inuit relationships of reciprocity and exchange. Climate change has dis¬ 
rupted their cultural patterns of hunting and food sharing. These Cape 
Dorset prints evoke Inuit traditions, but they should also remind us that 
indigenous responses to social and environmental challenges, as well 
as to aesthetic inspiration, are complex and dynamic, constantly being 
created and adapted. 

The stonecut prints of Pootoogook and Pitseolak should not be 
viewed as inert depictions of the traditions of a time that has passed, 
but rather as reminders of the contingent, historically situated, reciprocal 
and responsive nature of Inuit cultural life. These evocative prints help 
us remember what is required for a people to be tied to each other in 
community and to the animals and land that supports them. They can be 
understood as a reaffirmation of the awareness that there is no separation 
between nature and culture. The Inuit prints represent the exchanges 
between cultures, between hunter and animal, between hunter and 
artist. These beautiful prints are Inuit stories—always relevant, eternally 
inspired by and responsive to change. 

Object Lesson 

1 Paul Nadasdy, "The Gift in the Animal: The Ontology of Hunting and Human- 
Animal Sociality," American Ethnologist 34, no. 1 (2007): 25. 

2 Norman Vorano, Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration; Early Printmaking in 
the Canadian Arctic (Gatineau, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization 
Corporation, 2011), 24-59. 

3 Vorano, Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration, 2-11. 

4 Pitseolak Ashoona, Pitseolak: Pictures Out of My Life, edited by Dorothy Eber 
(Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1971). 

5 Fikret Berkes, Sacred Ecology, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2012), 105-43. 

6 Pitseolak, Pitseolak: Pictures Out of My Life. 

7 Odette Leroux, Marion E. Jackson, and Minnie Aodla Freeman, eds., Inuit 
Women Artists: Voices from Cape Dorset (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 
1994), 18. 

Further Reading 

Ashoona, Pitseolak. Pitseolak: Pictures Out of My Life. Edited by Dorothy Eber. 
Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1971. 

Berkes, Fikret. Sacred Ecology, 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2012. 

Auger, Emily E. The Way of Inuit Art: Aesthetics and History in and Beyond the 
Artie. London: McFarland & Company, 2005. 

Graburn, Nelson H. H. “Authentic Inuit Art: Creation and Exclusion in the 
Canadian North.” Journal of Material Culture 9, no. 2 (July 2004): 141-59. 

Houston, James. Eskimo Prints. Barre, MA: Barre Publishers, 1967. 

Leroux, Odette, Marion E. Jackson, and Minnie Aodla Freeman, eds. Inuit Women 
Artists: Voices from Cape Dorset. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1994. 

Nadasdy, Paul. "The Gift in the Animal: The Ontology of Hunting and Human- 
Animal Sociality.” American Ethnologist 34, no. 1 (2007): 25-43. 

Pupchek, Leanne Stuart. "True North: Inuit Art and the Canadian Imagination.” 
The American Review of Canadian Studies (Spring/Summer 2001): 191-208. 

Selesky, Karen. "Singing of What They No Longer Are? The Role of Traditional 
Inuit Myth and Legend in Contemporary Inuit Narrative and Visual Art.” 

The Northern Review 17 (Winter 1996): 71-84. 

Stepien, Adam. "Arctic Indigenous Peoples, Climate Change Impacts, and 
Adaptation.” E-International Relations, April 10, 2014. Accessed December 1, 

Tarkiasuk, Quitsak. "Responding to Global Climate Change: The Perspective 
of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference on the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.” 
Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada. Accessed December 1, 2016. http://www. 

Vorano, Norman. Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration. Early Printmaking in the 
Canadian Arctic. Gatineau, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization 
Corporation, 2011. 

Williams, Chris. "On Melting Ice: Inuit Struggle Against Oil and Gas in the Arctic.” 
Truthout, October 21, 2016, 


Object Lesson 

The Head in Focus 

Benin Art and Visual History 

Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi 


The discovery of these treasures resembles that 
of a valuable manuscript. They are a new 88 

“Codex Africanus, ” not written on fragile papyrus, 
but in ivory and imperishable brass . 1 

Benin art has held the imaginations of scholars and art 
dealers spellbound since the turn of the twentieth cen¬ 
tury. It was the first noted example of African art to truly 
confound racist assumptions and ethnocentric prejudices 
when it first came to Western attention after the tragic 
British punitive expedition of February 17,1897, during 
which the Benin kingdom was sacked by British colonial 
forces, and the reigning king, Oba Ovonranwmen, was 
captured and sent into exile. The old Benin kingdom’s 
influence was widespread in the area described as the 
Lower Niger, located in present-day Nigeria, southwest 
Nigeria, and across swaths of areas on the West African 

coast. Whereas Benin art was greatly 
admired and treated reverentially by 
Western audiences upon its discovery, 
as the cited commentary suggests, the 



Head of a King (Oba), 
probably 18th century 

26.7 x 19.7 x 21.6 cm. (10 14 x 7 % x 8 !4 in.) 
Gift of Miss Lucy T. Aldrich 39.054 




Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

kingdom and her artists were at the same time inscribed “within a 
racialized discourse of degraded savagery.” 2 (Today the Benin kingdom, 
a shadow of its former glory, comprises mostly Benin City, the capital 
of Edo State in southern Nigeria.) 

The Benin kingdom’s corpus of palace art, as seen in the head of 
a king in the RISD Museum collection [Fig. 1], highlights the technical 
mastery and artistic accomplishment of Benin artists over the ages. 
RISD’s head consists of a crown of intricately crosshatched beads, bold 
jutting knots on two sides of the crown, four flowing threads of beads 
with stops close to the base, and two strips of braided hair that dangle 
at both sides of the face. Cast in bronze, the crown mirrors the coral-bead 
headdress worn by the oba (king). The actual beaded crown consists of 
tiny red beads stitched together with brown vegetable fiber. The beads 
carry the essence of the office of oba. A single cowrie shell sits on the 
forehead, flanked by three scarification patterns called ikharo above each 
amplified eye. The tubular bead-collar covers the neck and chin, extend¬ 
ing all the way to the lower lip. With its remarkably stylized features, 
the crowned head is a portrait of elegant symmetry and dignified com¬ 
portment. The absence of a flange at the base suggests that it is an 
eighteenth-century-style commemorative head. The object is one of the 
two Type 3 heads belonging to the Middle and Late periods in the classifi¬ 
cation of Benin art, per the late anthropologist Philip Dark. 3 

In many African societies, the human head holds significant symbol¬ 
ism. It is explored at length in forms and performances (including 
masking traditions). Although the human body is equally celebrated as 
a reliquary that carries the soul in the mortal life and afterlife, 4 the head 
holds deeper ramifications. It determines the individual as marker of 
personal identity and physical identification, and ties the individual to 
family, ancestors, extended family, and community. More importantly, 
it determines a person’s destiny. Among the Yoruba in southwestern 
Nigeria, the head is the wellspring of wisdom and seat of divine power 
{ase). The head is divided into the external head {on ode), emblem of 
individuality, and the interior or spiritual head (on inu), the life source 
that controls the outer head. Ontologically, though all inner heads look 
the same, they are essentially different when bestowed on individuals. 5 
If one is bestowed with good inner head, the person’s ase ensures success 
in life. As such, the head is cast proportionally bigger that other parts of 
the body in visual representations, whether it is rendered naturalistically, 
stylized, or in abstract form. 6 The three modes of representation have 
different symbolic undertones. Similarly, the Benin considers the human 
head as imbued with spiritual energy {ehi) placed by the creator-god 

Object Lesson 

FIG. 2 

Nigeria, Kingdom of Benin, 
court workshop 

Portrait of King Osemwende, ca. 1810 

The Rietberg Museum, Zurich 

Osanobua and his eldest son, Ololcun; this energy guides the mortal indi¬ 
vidual throughout his or her lifetime on earth. Ultimately, the sculptured 
head is a corporeal memento in honor of revered deceased individuals 
such as ancestors. When it is covered with a coiffure, crown, or headdress, 
such elaborate details are emphasized. 

RISD’s head of a king holds added significance and prestige as an altar 
object that honors a royal ancestor. For the Benin, commemorative heads 
are idealized portraits commissioned by an incoming oba to honor his 
departed predecessor as part of the extravagant coronation ceremony. The 
portrait of King Osemwende (1816-1848) [Fig. 2], in the 
collection of the Rietberg Museum, Zurich, is an example 
of a commemorative head that has been connected to a 
specific oba. Other examples abound in Western muse¬ 
ums, such as the Museum of Ethnology in Berlin, which 
has one of the biggest repositories of Benin art. 






Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 


Oba Ewuare II, 
installation ceremony. 

Benin City, October 20,2016. 

Photo courtesy Dr. Peju Layiwola, Nigeria 


Bronze and brass heads at the foot 
of Oba Ewuare M’s throne. 

Royal Palace, Benin City, October 20,2016. 
Photo courtesy Dr. Peju Layiwola, Nigeria 

In accordance with longstanding tradi¬ 
tions instituted during the reign of Oba Ewuare 
I in the fifteenth century and which survived 
the changes that came in the wake of the puni¬ 
tive expedition, a new king’s commission for 
the production of a commemorative head is 
a physical act of ushering the most recent king 
into the pantheon of ancestor-kings. The new 
head is placed alongside others on the royal 
ancestral altar in the palace of the oba. Except 
in unusual cases, the deceased predecessor 
is usually the father of the new oba. One 
notable example from history was during the 
tumultuous seventeenth centuiy, when the 
kingdom was embroiled in a civil war after the 
death of the last warrior king, Oba Ehengbuda, 
and following the short reign of his son, Ohuan. 
Different factions of the royal family vied for 
the titular kingship in the absence of a direct 
line of descent. By venerating and memori¬ 
alizing their predecessors through corporeal 
representation, successive obas enabled the 
practice of visually inscribing Benin histoiy. 

Typically, the crown prince, or edaiken , 
undergoes an elaborate and demanding ritual 
process. He is escorted from the palace of the 
heir-apparent in Uselu, where, upon the death 
of the oba, he has repaired for ninety days, 
and he slowly proceeds through various impor- 
4 tant sites in the kingdom, accompanied by 

Uselu chiefs. His first stop is at the sacred 
palm tree, Udin Amamieson-aimiuwa, at the 
outskirts of Benin City. He climbs the tree symbolically, a practice that 
harks back to the fifteenth century, when Oba Ewuare I established it. The 
crown prince then continues to Usama to complete several important rites, 
including picking his dynastic name. Usama was where Oranmiyan, the 
progenitor of the post-Ogisos dynasty, built the first palace, and where suc¬ 
ceeding obas lived until the palace was moved to the center of Benin City 
by Oba Ewedo in late thirteenth centuiy. Finally, when the heir-apparent 
reaches the royal palace in a triumphant procession and great fanfare in 
the company of palace chiefs, heralded by traditional songs and outpour- 

Object Lesson 

ing of solidarity by his people, he is formally declared the oba, taking over 
the throne of his fathers. At the recent coronation of Oba Ewuare II on 
October 20, 2016, commemorative heads accompanied his final installa¬ 
tion ceremony in memoiy and honor of his departed father, Omo n’Oba 
n’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Erediauwa, and his royal forebears [Fig. 3]. The 
objects were placed at the foot of his throne and around the palace room 
where he welcomed visitors [Fig. 4]. 

Traditionally, the oba combines political and religious authority. 

Before colonialism, he held sweeping powers over his subjects. He was 
the nominal owner of Benin land and final adjudicator of justice, and 
controlled external trade, among other roles. Although his political power 
has waned and is now largely ceremonial since the end of colonial rule 35 

in Nigeria, he still commands the total respect of his subjects, owing to ^ 

his divine kingship. Perhaps more in the past than in the present, the 88 

oba was the arbiter of taste, introducing aesthetic criteria and affirming 
or critiquing styles and technical approaches and the resulting forms. As 
the custodian of Benin culture, the oba aligned artistic production with 
cultural values and communal idiosyncrasies. The most skilled members 
of the casters’ and carvers’ guilds produced palace objects, interpreting 
the royal perspectives and conveying the highest ideals of Benin aesthetics. 

It is in this sense that the objects plundered during the British sack of 
Benin were significant cultural achievements, perfected over many centu¬ 
ries and bearing the royal seal of approval. 

Many innovations in Benin art are traced to the time of Oba Ewuare I 
(circa 1440 to 1473), the first warrior-king and empire builder. The intro¬ 
duction of commemorative heads and large metal sculptures and forms 
into the Benin corpus is attributed to him. Though Benin metalsmiths 
already worked in brass and bronze before his time, Oba Ewuare I reor¬ 
ganized the guild systems by family and rewarded them with important 
titles based on technical competence and innovative ideas and techniques. 

Legend holds that he commissioned the royal guilds of casters and carvers 
to create his portrait. Whereas the casters portrayed an idealized image 
of the king at the prime of life, the carvers accurately captured his old 
age at the time of the commission. In his anger, Oba Ewuare I elevated 
the casters’ guild ( Iguneronmwon ) above the carvers’ guild ( Igbesanmwan ). 

Scholars have cited this piece of oral history as proof for the formal 
introduction of the commemorative bronze heads, dating it to about the 
fifteenth centuiy. 7 

As oral traditions suggest, it was also during the reign of Oba Ewuare 
I that the stately beaded dress worn by the oba and the council of chiefs 
was introduced. He is also credited with introducing the coral-bead crown, 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

which has become an important insignia of the monarchy. Though the 
oba alone can be entirely bedecked in coral beads, from his crown to 
his dress, as one of his praise names—“child of the beaded crown, child 
of the beaded dress”—suggests, the oba reflects a wider Benin sartorial 
outlook. This is on full display during august occasions and ceremonial 
events such as the coronation (UgieErha Oba), which celebrates and hon¬ 
ors the royal lineage, and at the annual Igue, one of the most important 
ritual ceremonies, devoted to safeguarding and enhancing the spiritual 
power of the oba. During these ceremonies, the oba’s wives, the council 
of chiefs, and high-ranking members of the Benin kingdom dress up 
in ceremonial attire, bead necklaces, and headdresses, as was the case 
during the final installation ceremony of the new king Oba Ewuare II, the 
thirty-ninth oba of Benin, on October 20, 2016. At the ceremony, people 
turned out in large numbers in ceremonial wear and beads, showcasing 
the elegant and fastidious attention the Benin pay to bodily appearance 
and self-presentation. 

Founded by Edo people, ancient Benin was one of the most powerful 
of Africa’s historical kingdoms known to the European world. Benin’s 
first rulers, the Ogisos (sky kings)—who claimed direct descent from the 
creator-god Osanobua through his youngest son, Idu—created a nascent 
state by integrating autonomous settlements, according to Benin oral 
traditions. An important economic power in an area described as the 
Guinea Coast in old maps (comprising present-day West Africa), Benin 
was already a thriving city-state and warrior kingdom when Portuguese 
explorer Duarte Pacheco Pereira visited in the 1490s. Art in Benin 
served multiple functions, ranging from commemoration, ancestral 
deification, and trade to historical documentation and literary purposes. 
Benin people are profoundly proud of their past successes, which were 
documented and advanced from the Benin court’s perspective. 8 

The commemorative heads provide a sense of a chronological out¬ 
line of the Benin past. Together with other sculptural forms produced by 
the guilds of royal casters and carvers, they chronicle political, militaris¬ 
tic, social, economic, and religious histories of the kingdom. Whether 
the art in question is cast in brass, bronze, or any other form of metal or 
carved in ivory or wood, contestations and debates remain in respect to 
chronological sequencing tied either to dates or dynasties. Many scholars 
recognize the excellent work done by the late anthropologist Philip Dark 
in creating a typology of the Benin cast traditions to align with a chronol¬ 
ogy of Benin kings. Similarly, a lot of work has also been done by conser¬ 
vators in analyzing material compositions of Benin art, but outcomes vary 
and remain inconclusive. 9 

Object Lesson 


Edo peoples 
Altar Portrait of an Oba 
18th century 

11 5 /a x 9 x 9 in. (29.5 x 22.9 x 22.9 cm.) 
The Menil Collection, Houston 
Photo: Paul Hester 





Relatively speaking, RISD’s head is of a different style when com¬ 
pared to the Menil Collection’s altar portrait of an oba [Fig. 5], whose 
provenance is traced directly to the Benin royal court, having once 
belonged to a British colonel who participated in the infamous sack of 
Benin. Unlike RISD’s bronze head, the Menil Collection’s example has a 
flange encrusted with defied zoomorphic forms (such as the royal leop¬ 
ard), as well as mudfish, crocodiles, and pythons associated with the 
revered water goddess Ololcun. The flange became an essential part of 
commemorative heads in the nineteenth century, suggesting innovations 
in Benin’s visual practice that were catalyzed by transfer or adoption of 
new techniques, availability of new materials, and introduction of new 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

aesthetic ideas. In addition, whereas RISD’s head appears tilted back¬ 
ward in its orientation, the Menil Collection’s portrait seems sturdier and 
ramrod straight. The ears of the two heads are also different, which could 
either signal an artistic or symbolic intervention. Both stylized heads are 
remarkably different from the more naturalistic uncrowned head [Fig. 6] 
in the Saint Louis Museum’s collection, although all three are altar pieces, 
displayed in the palace’s shrine. The uncrowned heads, or trophy heads 
as they are now called in scholarship, are considered the earliest examples 
of Benin bronze heads. There is a consensus that they are also the first 
examples of Benin heads produced using cireperdue or lost-wax, a tradi¬ 
tional method of metal casting that involves creating a wax model, cover¬ 
ing it in clay to create a mold, heating to ease out the wax, adding liquid 
metal to the vacant space, and then leaving it to firm. The heads produced 
using the cire perdue technique vary from the smaller and thinly cast to 
more sophisticated larger and thicker examples, which suggest improve¬ 
ment in casting techniques as time went by. 


Object Lesson 

Quite often, notions of cultural authenticity 
and artistic purity are ascribed to historical African 
art, negating a long history of cultural exchange 
and economic relationships between the African 
continent and the rest of the world. Benin art is a good 
example where the impact of external and internal 
mercantile connections is strongly felt in visual 
representations and artistic mediums. For example, the Benin’s first 
contact with Europe, according to known records, was with Portuguese 
traders in the fourteenth century, and it had significant cultural 
ramifications. Changes in representational styles in Benin sculptures 
as typified by the commemorative heads and in ivory carvings capture 39 

some of the assimilation of outsider ideas and influences. ^ 

Some of the excellent casting techniques and use of new materials 88 

such as copper came with the Portuguese, whose image also became 
part of the visual lexicon in Benin art, signaling militaristic might and 
affluence. The intricately carved long ivory tusks that sit atop royal 
portraits in the traditional altar settings (and are absent in museum 
settings) are excellent indicators of the adoption of Portuguese carving 
techniques, presenting hybrid representations of locals and foreigners 
alike. Examples abound of the iconic image of Portuguese sailors finely 
attired in period clothing, Portuguese coats of arms, and equestrian 
figures. In addition to supplying Benin with firearms and mercenaries 
to wage their wars, the Portuguese also supplied Benin with the highly 
coveted coral beads in larger quantities, and with brass manilas that 
were melted for casting. 

Furthermore, studies have shown that although the practice of 
placing the carved ivory tusks on commemorative heads and royal altars 
started in the early seventeenth century, the practice of this display 
increased significantly in the early eighteenth century with increased 
ivory trade between the Benin kingdom and Dutch merchants. 10 The 
higher commercial value of ivory resulting from international trade 
enhanced the material’s social and symbolic capital and was reflected 
in ritual and artistic practices. In a sense and in addition, cultural auras 
and values of the Benin’s trading partners were organically assimilated, 
as shown in the art. It can thus be argued that while the commemorative 
heads illuminate the dynastic history of Benin, the ivory carvings — 
including those created as souvenirs for the European market, which 
clearly represent the prosperity that attended the glory years of empire — 
visually narrate the economic history of the kingdom. 

Unidentified Edo artist 
Commemorative Head, 
15th—18th century 
Bronze, iron 
7 % x 7 y 8 x 6 7 /e in. 

Saint Louis Art Museum, 
Museum Purchase 12:1936 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

Although visual records show that the Portuguese had a tremendous 
impact on Benin art through the introduction of brass and new carving 
techniques, the earliest outside influence on Benin art came from their 
immediate neighbors, particularly the Yoruba. Oral traditions suggest 
that Oba Oguola requested a master caster from the Oni of Ife, who 
sent Iguegha to him. Iguegha introduced several styles and techniques, 
including the lost-wax casting technique, and became deified upon 
his death, worshipped ever since by the guild of brass casters. 11 The 
naturalism achieved earlier on in Benin art, as seen in the uncrowned or 
trophy head, is attributed to a virtuosity learned from Ife, the ancestral 
heartland of the Yoruba. 12 Naturalistically rendered and idealized terra¬ 
cotta commemorative heads are part of the corpora of both Benin and 
Yoruba arts, although there are stylistic differences which are culturally 
specific. For instance, whereas the Benin terra-cotta heads are more 
robust looking, with rounded cheeks and eyes, the Ife terra-cotta heads 
have leaner features. Also, the scarification patterns run from top to 
bottom on the Ife heads, while those on the Benin heads are often three 
or four incisions above the eyes. 

In addition, several cultures abutting the kingdom, such as the Igbo 
(neighbors farther to the east) and the Igala (in central Nigeria), would 
have influenced Benin art, and vice versa. Trophy or uncrowned heads 
(such as the Saint Louis Museum’s collection’s example) are decapitated 
heads of defeated kings, a practice of headhunting attributed to the 
Igbo. 13 The heads were sent to guilds to be cast in bronze or brass to be 
included in the Benin war altars memorializing the kingdom’s great 
victories in major battles, such as those against the Igbo and Igala, 14 and/ 
or to serve as a cautionary note to potential renegade vassal states. 

The Benin’s artistic achievements, among the most revered and 
celebrated in African art, continue to fire contemporary imagination. 
Though the sovereignty and influence of the present-day Benin kingdom 
have been largely diminished, its rich ritual traditions continue to 
thrive, having withstood the force of the colonial encounter. The year 
1997 marked the centenary of the punitive expedition, the historic 
event that changed the fate of the last holdout against British colonial 
forces in Nigeria. A life in exile in Calabar for Oba Ovonramwen, the last 
precolonial king, and his subsequent death in 1914 marked the end of 
an era and the beginning of a new chapter for the kingdom as a part of 
Nigeria. In 1914, the British colonial power restored the role of the oba, 
allowing Oba Eweka II to ascend the throne of his father, Ovonramwen, 
and amalgamating its southern and northern protectorates to create the 
country of Nigeria. 

Object Lesson 

The kingdom’s visual histoiy unfolds with greater vigor each time 
we engage RISD’s head. We are forced to ask critical questions about 
its former life as an altarpiece that served important ritual function for 
the Benin people, as compared to its status today, as a museum object 
admired for its aesthetic qualities and as a vector of Benin’s cultural past. 

The goal is not to point accusatory fingers, as Oba Erediauwa (1979-2016) 
stated in his opening speech during the centenary event. 15 Instead it is to 
seek fresh pathways for the past to enlighten the present. 

Depending on which side of the art-historical debates one finds 
oneself, Benin art has either remained stuck in pre-punitive expedition 
aesthetics and styles or has evolved in small increments since the monar¬ 
chy was reestablished in 1914. Art historian Joseph Nevadomsky charges 41 

that “virtually all of the art historical work devoted to Benin takes 1897 ^ 

as its terminus ad quem,” with less regard for innovative strategies that 88 

have continued to flourish in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. 16 
Similarly, Charles Gore argues that that major innovations in casting 
techniques and accompanying social practices in the twentieth-century 
have not attracted sufficient art historical attention. Yet, as he equally 
suggests, present-day Benin art remains wedded to its precolonial past. 

In part, this is the result of its success in the Western imagination, 
boosted by the intellectual work of art historians and anthropologists 
and the subsequent allure of commodification. 17 Or perhaps, and beyond 
the demands of the market, the post-1914 royal court and guilds of cast¬ 
ers and carvers have been nostalgic for the precolonial glory days of the 
kingdom, longing for an authentic Benin identity that only the visual past 
can provide. 

Yet as Benin’s visual histoiy has shown, if we are to consider the 
ingenious hybridism that attended the arts over the many centuries 
preceding the punitive expedition, the royal palace and the various 
artistic guilds have always responded to a changing world. The reliance 
on stock imageries and forms which now constitute cultural heritage 
might be understood as the way in which the oba and the Edo people 
today reimagine and negotiate what it means to be Benin in postcolonial 
Nigeria, against the backdrop of existential conditions and the force of 
contemporary globalization. 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

1 0. M. Dalton, "Booty from Benin,” English Illustrated Magazine, vol. XVIII 
(1898), 419. Cited in Annie E. Coombes, Reinventing Africa: Museums, Material 
Culture and Popular Imagination in Late Victorian and Edwardian England 
(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994), 7. 

2 Ibid. 

3 Philip J. C. Dark, An Introduction to Benin Art and Technology (Oxford: 
Clarendon Press, 1973). 

4 Alisa LaGamma, "Eternal Ancestors: The Art of the Central African Reliquary,” 
African Arts 40, no. 4 (Winter 2007): 32-43. 

5 Babatunde Lawal, “On: The Significance of the Head in Yoruba Sculpture,” 
Journal of Anthropological Research 41, no. 1 (Spring 1985): 91-103. 

6 Rowland Abidoun, "Ase: Verbalizing and Visualizing Creative Power Through 
Art,” Journal of Religion in Africa 24, fasc. 4 (November 1994): 309-22. 

7 Paula Girshick Ben-Amos, The Art of Benin, rev. ed. (London: Trustees of the 
British Museum; Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995), 33. 

8 Ben-Amos, The Art of Benin, rev. ed., 20. 

9 See, for example, Frank Willett, Ben Torsney, and Mark Ritchie, "Composition 
and Style: An Examination of the Benin ‘Bronze’ Heads,” African Arts 27, no. 3 
(July 1994): 60-67. 

10 Ben-Amos, The Art of Benin, rev. ed., 37. 

11 Jacob Egharevba, A Short History of Benin, rev. ed., (Ibadan: University of 
Ibadan, 1968,12). 

12 See, for example, Douglas Fraser, "The Fish-Legged Figure in Benin and 
Yoruba Art, in African Art and Leadership, ed. Douglas Fraser and Herbert M. 
Cole (Madison, Milwaukee, and London: The University of Wisconsin Press), 

13 Barbara Blackmun, "Altar Heads,” in African Art from the Men'll Collection, ed. 
Kristina Van Dyke (Houston: Menil Foundation, Inc., 2008), 128. 

14 Charles Hercules Read and Ormonde Maddock Dalton, Antiquities from 
the City of Benin and from Other Parts of West Africa in the British Museum 
(London: British Museum; Longman and Co [first ed.], 1899), 6; cited in Ben 
Amos, The Art of Benin, rev. ed., 39. 

15 Oba Erediauwa, "Opening Ceremony Address," African Arts 30, no. 3 
(Summer 1997): 30-33 

16 Joseph Nevadomsky, Contemporary Art and Artists in Benin City," African 
Arts 30, no. 4 (Autumn 1997): 54-63. 

17 Charles Gore, "Casting Identities in Contemporary Benin City,” African Arts 
30, no. 3 (Summer 1997): 57. 

Artist on Art 

Pia Camil 

"This visual essay mixes images of past works like A Pot for A Latch and 
Divisor Pirata alongside research documentation taken throughout 
Mexico City of informal markets and alternative modes of exchange. 
These range from street markets to dollar stores and other visual 
references that help inform my work." 



1 Frame: Display handbags, downtown Mexico City 
Inner Frame: Aerial view of Ciudad Neza, Mexico City 

Center image: Divisor Pirata, documentation of performance organized 
by NuMu Museum, Guatemala City, 2016 

2 Frame: Display heads, downtown Mexico City 

Inner frame: Shop display with grid panels, downtown Mexico City 
Center image: Pot for a Latch, New Museum exchange day, NYC, 2016 

3/4 Frame: Banana object donated during exchange day of Pot for a Latch 
exhibition, New Museum, New York City, 2016. 

Second-hand cloth bundle in Las Torres market, Iztapalapa, Mexico City. 
Display chains in downtown Mexico City 

Background: Pot fora Latch installation shot. Metal grids and donated 
objects from general public. New Museum, NYC, 2016 

Left image: Instagram picture of exchange object for Pot for a Latch @eksnels 
Right image: Instagram picture of sweatshirt exchange for Pot for a Latch 

5 Frame: Street documentation photograph of beauty shop in downtown 
Mexico City 

Image: Divisor Pirata, secondhand t-shirts (from Las Torres market, 
Iztapalapa, Mexico City) 6 * 14 m., 2016 

6 Frame: Documentation photo of Beauty shop in Harlem, NYC 

Inner Frame: Gaby’s t-shirt curtain, secondhand t-shirts (from Las Torres 
market, Iztapalapa, Mexico City), 3.1 x 34 m., 2016 

Image: Seamstress women collective, Iztapalapa, Mexico city, 2016 



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Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 


Object Lesson Entanglements 

Robert W. Preucel & Alexandra M. Peck 


Native American objects rest uneasily within art 
museums. Removed from their original contexts 
of use, they have been historically resignified 
as “primitive,” “exotic,” and representative of the 
mythic Other. Exhibited as material signs 
of progress, advancement, and civilization, they 
are largely silent about their makers’ desires 
and intentions. Today, Native American objects 
are reclaiming new voice. Many art museums 
are adopting more inclusive approaches to 
representational practice and are engagingwith 
Native American peoples and objects in new 
ways. These approaches are fostering exciting 
conversations about the intersections of European 
and Native American ontologies and aesthetics. 


Native American (Tlingit) 

Thunderbird and Whale Frontlet 
C Shakee.atX late 19th century 
Wood,abaloneshell, pigment 
19.1 x 14.6 x 5.1 cm. (714 x 513/16 x 2 in.) 
Museum Works of Art Fund 44.154 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

In the spring of 2016, we were invited by the RISD Museum to survey 
their small but distinguished Native American collection. We have been 
identifying the objects and making exhibition (as well as digital and 
archival) recommendations. Many of the items are donations from alum¬ 
ni and often do not have detailed provenience. A group of eighty-seven 
objects, however, were acquired in 1944 as part of an exchange with the 
Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation. The Heye Foundation 
was founded in 1916 as a prominent research institution focusing on the 
American Indian, and its collections now comprise the core of the 
National Museum of the American Indian (nmai) in Washington, D.C. 

We contacted Ann McMullen, a curator at the nmai and head of collec¬ 
tions research, who provided us with a complete set of documentation 
for the Heye Foundation objects. 

George Gustav Heye was a New York banker who became enamored 
of Native American material culture and formed a vast archaeological 
and ethnological collection that he housed in his museum at Audubon 
Terrace in the Bronx [Fig. 2]. When he died in 1956, it is said that he had 
acquired more than one million objects representing “both the highest 
artistic expression of Indian cultures and the evidence of everyday life.” 1 
Heye positioned himself at the center of the Native American collecting 
network and he purchased many of his Northwest Coast objects from 
noted collectors, such as George T. Emmons, Thomas Crosby, Leo 

Frachtenberg, T. T. Waterman, and D. F. 
Tozier. These collectors specialized in the 
material culture of specific tribal groups. 
For example, Emmons, a U.S. Navy lieuten¬ 
ant, collected among the Tlingit people of 
southeast Alaska. 

A small subset of the nmai objects 
have been repatriated to the Tlingit tribes 
and Native Alaskan corporations under 
the Native American Graves Protection 
and Repatriation Act (nagpra) of 1990. 2 
One of the most famous of these repa¬ 
triations was the return of the Bear Hat 
(known to Tlingit speakers as Xoots 
ShadaKoox’) to the Tlingit Chilkat Indian 
Village of Klukwan, Alaska. 3 This crest 
hat is considered an “object of cultural 
patrimony” under the law, and was shown 
to have been inappropriately removed 

FIG. 2 

George and Thea Heye at the Museum of 
the American Indian. New York City, 1917. 
Photo courtesy of National Museum of the 
American Indian Archives (P11582) 


Object Lesson 

from the village. As Joe Hotch, president of the Chilkat Indian Village, 
put it, “Receiving the Bear Hat was more than the return of an important 
cultural object; it was like the return of a family member.” 4 

The RISD Museum has an outstanding Tlingit headdress that was 
acquired as part of the Heye Foundation exchange [Fig. 1]. It is a special 
kind of headdress known as a frontlet, and is used by several different 
Northwest Coast peoples. It originated among the Tsimshian of British 
Columbia’s central coast, and was quickly adopted by the neighboring 
Tlingit and Haida people. 5 Unlike Haida frontlets, characterized by a 
single large figure, and Tsimshian frontlets, which often depict small 
faces or figures surrounding a large figure, Tlingit frontlets commonly 
portray a large primary figure and a smaller secondary one. 6 Traditionally, 53 

high-ranking Tlingit men wore these headdresses along with special ^ 

ceremonial regalia, such as Chilkat robes and dance collars, at memorial 88 

potlatches [Fig. 3]. Today, frontlets are worn at traditional events as well 
as public dance celebrations, such as the biennial celebration program 
sponsored by the Sealaska Heritage Institute. 

The RISD frontlet is a rectangular wooden plaque with primary and 
secondary figures in the center and abalone shell inlay around the edges. 

Like most Tlingit frontlets, it is carved out of alderwood and painted 
blue, red, and black. Several of the inlaid shells have perforations indi¬ 
cating previous lives as part of a necklace or perhaps earrings. The front¬ 
let’s central carving appears to represent a bird with a slightly hooked 
beak (partially restored) holding an animal being torn in half. The Heye 
Foundation’s catalogue card, however, provides a rather different descrip¬ 
tion: “Head ornament of wood, carved to represent a man holding the 
head of a mountain sheep, red, black, blue painted decoration, Tlingit.” 

Unfortunately, the card does not identify where the item was collected, 
or from whom it was purchased. 

So, here we have a contradiction. Our observation suggests that the 
frontlet depicts a bird splitting an animal in two, while the catalogue 
card identifies the image as a man holding the head of a mountain sheep. 

How might we go about resolving this issue? Catalogue cards are valued 
in the museum world as a primary source of documentation, but they are 
sometimes incorrect because of errors that can arise in the transferral 
of information from the original document to the object record. We also 
know that archives related to turn-of-the-century Native American art are 
often incomplete as a result of flawed interpretations and cultural misun¬ 
derstandings. Native informants often held back the meanings of objects 
from collectors in an effort to retain symbolic control over the objects 
leaving the community. 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 



Object Lesson 

The standard approach might be to approach the problem from a 
material-science perspective. For example, we can identify the abalone 
inlay as green abalone ( Haliotisfulgens ) coming from the western 
coast of Northern California. This identification draws attention to the 
distant trade relationships between the Native peoples of Northern 
California and the Tlingit of southeast Alaska. We suggest that a produc¬ 
tive way to enhance this interpretation is to honor the frontlet’s Tlingit 
origins and grant primacy to cultural context. By incorporating Tlingit 
concepts into our analysis, we can develop a richer understanding of 
the frontlet’s meaning and traditional use. The interpretation of Native 
objects is always a “give and take”—a tacking back and forth between 
Western and non-Western contexts—to reveal the many layers of meaning. 55 

In the Tlingit language, the frontlet is called a , translating ^ 

literally as “a thing on top.” The word shakee means “something with 88 

a rounded top, like a mountain,” “above it,” or “elevated over it.” 7 The 
word at refers to a “thing.” The name thus highlights the location of use— 
on a person’s head—and calls attention to the agency of the object in lend¬ 
ing distinction to a high-ranking person. The Tsimshian name for frontlet, 
amhalait , translates as “for dancing or twirling.” 8 Here the name charac¬ 
terizes the object in motion. The root word halait is generally translated 
as “dance,” “dancing,” or “dancer,” and references someone who has 
an extraordinary gift or spiritual power, often a medicine man, shaman, 
or initiate. The Tsimshian name is thus ontologically richer than the 
Tlingit name, which is more descriptive. This difference supports the idea 
that the Tlingit people borrowed the headdress style, but not the underly¬ 
ing concept, from the Tsimshian people. 

Another insight into Tlingit ontology is provided by a category of 
things classified by the word at.oow , translated as “an owned or purchased 
thing.” 9 These belongings are the inalienable possessions of a particular 
Tlingit clan, and play a special role in Tlingit society in that they take 
on the characteristics of living beings. They are typically created, named, 
used, given away, and retired according to strict protocols. For example, 
objects become at.oow when they are publically validated at a memorial 
potlatch by being given a name and having money given 
out on their behalf. 

The identification of the frontlet’s central image is 
critical to interpreting clan ownership. Tlingit clans are 
traced by matrilineal descent within a dual social division 
known as a moiety (either Eagle or Raven). The central 
carving on Tlingit frontlets usually references a clan crest 
or emblem and depicts an important event in the clan’s 


Tlingit silversmith Jim Jacobs 
wearing a headdress. 
Sitka, Alaska,1931. 

Photo courtesy of the Alaska 
State Library, Luella Smith 
Photo Collection (ASL-P110-05) 


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Give and Take 

mytho-histoiy. Each clan has a primary crest, a moiety crest, and a num¬ 
ber of secondary crests that together distinguish it from all other clans. 
This crest system connects all people who have the rights to the same 
clan identity and specifies their relatives in other clans. Crest objects can 
thus be seen as a material genealogy, since they physically materialize 
the deeds and experiences of ancestors. Crests become clan possessions 
usually through an otherworldly encounter or the loss of life of a clan 
member. For example, the Chookaneidi clan claims the glacier as one of 
its crests because one of its clanswomen died on a glacier. For this reason, 
the glacier is represented as a central motif on their crest blanket. 10 

The RISD frontlet is incomplete; it is missing key elements of 
the headdress. In its finished form, the wooden plaque would be fas¬ 
tened to a cloth-covered cylindrical frame covered by white swan down 
and attached to a long “cape” or trailer covered with white ermine pelts. 
Frontlets are typically decorated with whiskers of the Steller sea lion 
(Eumetopias jubatus) and tail feathers of the red-shafted flicker (Colaptes 
auratus cafer ), standing erect atop the wooden plaque. Each material 
carries its own special significance. For example, the flicker is believed 
to serve as a messenger between upper and lower worlds. Similarly, the 
ermine cape refers to the winter potlatch season when the ermine’s fur 
turns white. The abalone shell with its brilliant iridescent blue is thought 
to represent the sky world. 

We consulted Harold Jacobs, a Tlingit scholar, in an attempt to 
identify the frontlet’s central carving. 11 He immediately recognized it as 
a “classic example” of the Thunderbird and Killer Whale crest. 12 The 
Thunderbird and Killer Whale story is popular among many Northwest 
Coast peoples and is represented in multiple forms, such as totem 
poles [Fig. 4]. The Thunderbird is a large, powerful bird that feasts 
upon whales during storms. Whenever thunder claps, it signals that the 
Thunderbird has just swooped down and captured a whale for its din¬ 
ner. 13 The Thunderbird’s nest, positioned on top of a high mountain, is 
littered with whale bones, the remains of its meals. Few people claim 
to have seen Thunderbird seize a whale, as the bird usually renders its 
observers ill or blind. 14 

Fossil whale remains have been reported from a lake near Clayoquot 
on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. According to James Swan, an 
ethnologist working among the Northwest Coast Native 
communities in the 1850s, the Quileute and Chimakum 
communities of Washington regarded whale fossils as 
evidence of great feasts of the Thunderbird, who caught 
the whales in the ocean, deposited them near the lake, and 


Haida Thunderbird and Whale 
Mortuary Pole Replica, 
carved by Nathan Jackson. 
Totem Bight State Historical 
Park, Ketchikan, Alaska 

Object Lesson 


then devoured them. 15 Geologists have speculated that the Thunderbird 
and Whale story may be an indigenous account of a tsunami triggered 
by an earthquake at the Cascadia subduction zone separating the North 
Atlantic and Juan de Fuca plates. 16 Significant earthquakes have occurred 
in this region for thousands of years, thus potentially rooting the story in 
the far-distant past. 


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An almost identical [Fig. 5] is held by the University of 
Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. 17 It was collected 
by Tlingit ethnographer Louis Shotridge in 1924 at Huna, Alaska. Shotridge’s 
fieldnotes indicate that it was called the “Hunting Thunderbird” and for¬ 
merly owned by Anlenyet, a member of the Kik.sadi clan of Wrangell, Alaska. 
The object was gifted to the Talcdeintaan clan of Huna, most likely during 
a potlatch, in honor of a maternal relationship linking the two clans. 
Shotridge explains that the carving represents the Thunderbird tearing 
a whale in two. Because of stylistic similarities between the Penn and RISD 
objects, Harold Jacobs thinks that the RISD may have been made 
by the same carver. This finding suggests that it too could be from Wrangell. 

Object Lesson 

Even with this detailed contextual information, it is difficult to 
appreciate a until you see it danced. For the Tlingit people, 
dance is a central means of expression, communication, and storytelling, 
as well as a form of entertainment. Frontlets are popularly referred to as 
“dancing headdresses” because of their role in dancing. 18 Traditionally, 
the cylindrical “inner” part of the headdress was packed with eagle down, 
although today goose down is often used. When a performer dances vigor¬ 
ously, the down flies out, spreading peace and good wishes amongst the 
potlatch guests. The is also danced as part of th eyeik.utee, also 
called the Blanket Dance, often performed at potlatches [Fig. 6]. In this 
dance, a blanket is held vertically to create a theatrical stage. One or two 
dancers stand behind it so that only their headdresses are visible. 19 The 
dancers then move their headdresses back and forth along the top edge 
of the blanket in time to the music for the entertainment of the audience. 

FIG. 5 

Thunderbird and whale frontlet (NA6834)from 
Huna, Alaska. Courtesy of the Penn Museum, 
image #196047 

FIG. 6 

Tlingit elder George Jim dancing the yeik-utee 
dance at a totem-pole raising. Kake, Alaska, 1971. 
Photo courtesy of Alaska State Library, Kake 
Potlatch Photo Collection (ASL-P263-109) 

The Tlingit is a semiot- 
ically rich object. The headdress style 
was borrowed from the Tsimshian peo¬ 
ple, and this usage may have required 
a payment. Its very materials embody 
the opposition of the sea and sky 
worlds—the ocean is symbolized by the 
sea lion whiskers, and the celestial is 
represented by the abalone, eagle down, 
and flicker feathers. Some of its materi- 

For us, interpretation is a dynamic 
process of moving back and forth — a 
giving and taking—as we test out our 
ideas against Native American concepts 

als, such as the abalone, were acquired 
through trade with neighboring tribal 
communities. The Thunderbird and 
Whale carving indexes the instability of 
ocean and sky during times of seismic 
stress and may even refer to a historical 
event. These multiple entanglements 
give the frontlet its dynamic agency, ena¬ 
bling it to communicate and sacralize a 
social order that links people together in 
the clan system and places certain indi¬ 
viduals “above” others according to their 
inherited status. 

Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

and worldviews. This exercise is an inherently collaborative process 
that necessarily involves reaching out to museum professionals and 
Native Alaskan colleagues. By integrating ethnographic research, Tlingit 
oral histories, and scientific analyses, we are able to offer compelling 
accounts of the meaning and likely provenience of this remarkable More generally, the triangulation of these different ways of 
knowing allows us to reanimate Native American objects and learn from 

their makers, past and present. 


We would like to thank Amy Pickworth, Ann McMullen, Harold Jacobs, 
Alessandro Pezzati, and Lucy Williams for their research and editorial assistance. 
We dedicate this essay to the memory of Teri Rofkar fChas' Koowu Tla'a'), 
T’akdeintaan clan, Snail House, Huna, Alaska. 

1 Clara Sue Kidwell, "Every Last Dishcloth: The Prodigious Collecting of George 
Gustav Heye,” in Collecting Native America: 1870-1960, ed. Shepard Krech III 
and Barbara A. Hail (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999), 250. 

2 The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (Public Law 
101-601), or NAGPRA, as it is commonly known, allows federally recognized 
Native American tribes and corporations to request the return of human remains 
and certain categories of objects, including objects of cultural patrimony, sacred 
objects, and funerary objects. It has led to productive new relationships between 
tribes and museums. 

3 James Pepper Henry, "Coming Home," in Native Universe: Voices of Indian 
America, ed. Gerald McMaster and Clifford E. Trafzer (Washington, DC: National 
Geographic Books, 2008), 246. 

4 Rita Pyrillis, "Repatriation’s Open Door Helps Museums as Well as Native 
Communities,” National Museum of the American Indian Quarterly Winter 2000: 
10 . 

5 Carol Sheehan McLaren, "Unmasking Frontlet Headdresses: An Iconographic 
Study of Images in Northern Northwest Coast Ceremonial Headdresses” 
(master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, University of 
British Columbia, Vancouver, 1977), 15. 

6 Bill Holm, "The Dancing Headdress Frontlet: Aesthetic Context on the 
Northwest Coast,” in The Arts of the North American Indian: Native Traditions in 
Evolution, ed. Edwin L. Wade (Manchester, VT: Hudson Hills Press, 1986), 136. 

7 Keri Edwards, Dictionary of Tlingit (Juneau, AK: Sealaska Heritage Institute, 

8 See Jay Miller, Tsimshian Culture: A Light Through the Ages (Lincoln, NE: 
University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 104. See also and Marie-Francoise Guedon, 

"An Introduction to Tsimshian World View and Its Practitioners," in The Tsimshian: 
Images of the Past, Views for the Present, ed. Margaret Seguin (Vancouver: 
University of British Columbia Press, 1984), 138-39. 

9 Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer, Haa Tuwunaagu Yfs, for 
Healing Our Spirit: Tlingit Oratory (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 
1990), 19-21. 

10 Thomas F. Thornton, Being and Place Among the Tlingit (Seattle: University 
of Washington Press, 2015), 107. 

n Harold Jacobs is the cultural specialist of the Central Council of Tlingit and 
Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. 

12 For other frontlets with Thunderbird and Whale imagery, see the examples 
illustrated in McLaren’s master’s thesis, "Unmasking Frontlet Headdresses,” 

13 Ruth Ludwin and Gregory J. Smits, "Folklore and Earthquakes: Native 
American Oral Traditions from Cascadia Compared with Written Traditions from 
Japan,” in Myth and Geology, ed. W. Bruce Masse and Luigi Piccardi (London: 
Geological Society of London, 2007), 67-94. 

14 Mark A. Hall and Mark Lee Rollins, "Sky Kings of the Past,” in Thunderbirds: 
America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds (New York: Cosimo, 2008), 57-69. 

15 James G. Swan, "The Indians of Cape Flattery, at the Entrance to the Strait of 
Juan de Fuca, Washington Territory,” Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge 
220 (1870): 57-58. 

16 Thomas H. Heaton and Parke D. Snavely, Jr, "Possible Tsunami Along 
the Northwestern Coast of the United States Inferred from Indian Traditions,” 
Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America 75, no. 5 (1985): 1457-59. 

17 Robert W. Preucel, "Shotridge in Philadelphia: Representing Native Alaskan 
Peoples to East Coast Audiences. In Sharing Our Knowledge: The Tlingit 
and their Coastal Neighbors, ed. Sergei Kan with Steve Hendrickson (Lincoln: 
University of Nebraska Press, 2015), 42. 

18 Bill Holm, “The Dancing Headdress Frontlet: Aesthetic Context on the 
Northwest Coast,” in The Arts of the North American Indian: Native Traditions in 
Evolution, ed. Edwin L. Wade (Manchester, VT: Hudson Hills Press, 1986), 133. 

19 Sergei Kan, Symbolic Immortality (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution 
Press, 1989), 227. 


objects are identified on page 88 

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Manual Spring 2017 

“ O What a Tangled 
Web We Weave” 

Intersecting Threads in 
a Scottish Paisley Shawl 

Kate Irvin 

Many of us have likely experienced the sensory pleasures 
of at least touching, maybe even swaddling ourselves in, 
the unfathomable softness and warmth of a shawl made 
of pashmina or cashmere. It is also probable that the now- 
ubiquitous teardrop-shaped mass of swirling vegetation, 
a motif called “paisley” in Europe and North America, has 
featured on some piece of clothing in each of our closets, 
maybe on a scarf, shawl, or tie. It is likely, then, that this 
early nineteenth-century silk and wool rectangular woman’s 
shawl [Fig. 1], made in Great Britain (quite likely in Paisley, 
Scotland), its end borders sporting a regimental march of 
large paisley motifs against a subdued white center section, 
will appear enticing though familiar, perhaps even quotidian. 


Scottish, probably Paisley 
Shawl, early 19th century 
Silk twill weave with wool and silk 
supplementary weft patterning 
Length: 308.6 cm. (121 Vz in.) 

Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth 34.797 

Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

The stoiy of this shawl might seem squarely neat and genuinely 
authentic—what more can be said of a so-called paisley shawl made in 
Paisley, Scotland?—but there are a great many twisted strands of exchange 
and competition to unravel as we delve into its production and aesthetic 
history. Complex cross-cultural histories unfold as we investigate the mak¬ 
ing, marketing, and wearing of this accessory. 

The oft-quoted line from Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott’s 1808 epic 
poem “Marmion”—“O what a tangled web we weave / When first we 
practice to deceive”—relates particularly well to this shawl. In the context 
of the poem’s narrative, the metaphor of the web refers to the romantic 
machinations and deception perpetrated by the story’s principal charac¬ 
ter, and his ultimate fall as he becomes irrevocably enmeshed within the 
crisscrossing threads of his multifarious lies. This is a web made not by the 
straightforward grid of plain-woven warp and weft (following strict social 
mores) but rather a chaotic structure of unruly threads. Extracted from 
the poem and applied to circumstances in Scott’s Scotland at the time of 
the poem’s publication, in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the 
phrase takes on other moralizing tones that are relevant to RISD’s woven 
shawl. Herein lies a tangled web indeed. 

Very likely woven in Paisley, Scotland, around 1815, the shawl’s pat¬ 
tern (though not its material or technique) quite faithfully references the 
luxurious and famed Kashmiri pashmina shawls that had captivated the 
imagination of fashionable European women and filled the coffers of 
British East India Company merchants since the late 18th century [Fig. 2]. 
RISD’s shawl was made some forty years after Europeans received the 
first imports of the astonishingly sumptuous textiles woven in the par¬ 
adisiacal but hotly contested Kashmir Valley, a region located in the 
northernmost area of the Indian subcontinent. Since the late sixteenth 
century, under the patronage of Central Asian Mughal rulers who con¬ 
quered much of Northern India, including the Kashmir Valley, Kashmir’s 
workshops in the city of Srinagar and its environs became internationally 
renowned for their unique production of delicate textiles most often worn 

by men as shoulder mantles or as waist sashes [Fig. 3]. For 
hundreds of years, these textiles were prized and worn by 
elites in royal and aristocratic circles in India, Central Asia, 
Iran, and the Ottoman Empire, and were offered by rulers 
as gifts of honor to their entourage and important guests. 

Europeans, in fact, were late in succumbing to the lure 

FIG. 2 

Indian (Kashmir) for export 
Shawl, ca. 1815 

Goat fleece double-interlocking 
twill tapestry weave 
Length: 295.9 cm. (116 Vz in.) 

Bequest of Miss Lucy T. Aldrich 55.331 

of Kashmir’s production. It wasn’t until the mid-eighteenth 
century that British East India Company officials began car¬ 
rying back pashmina mantles as gifts and souvenirs, then 

Object Lesson 

officially importing them in an attempt to monopolize the market. In no 
time, wealthy European women were draping Kashmiri shawls around 
their shoulders to advertise their status and taste, as well as to stave off 
the cold brought on by cladding themselves in the lightweight cotton or 
silk of the high-waisted columnar dress, the reigning fashion 
in the decades around the turn of the eighteenth century [Fig. 4]. 

In Kashmir, these shawls were woven of pashm , the superfine fibers 
that comprise the winter undercoat of the Tibetan mountain goat. Culling 
and preparing these extremely delicate fibers, imported into Kashmir 
from Tibet, was time-consuming, and the weaving of complex floral 
patterns with the whisper-thin yarn proved even more arduous. Skilled 
weavers sat at a loom using thin wooden bobbins to hand-weave the 
intricate patterns in a technique called kani, or double-interlocking twill 
tapestry weave. This laborious technique enabled the weavers to com¬ 
pose detailed, multicolored motifs with such exactitude that they appear 

Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 


Object Lesson 

almost as if they were painted or printed instead of woven. A slow process, 
it sometimes took years to complete a piece, making the finished garment 
highly coveted and expensive, accessible only to the wealthy elite. 1 

English and French merchants prospered by importing these exorbi¬ 
tantly priced riches from Kashmir to Europe. Owning such rare luxuries 
from afar also increased the prestige of those women in Europe who could 
afford them. However, the weavers and middlemen in traditional centers 
of production in Great Britain were far less enthusiastic about these 
textiles that mesmerized their potential clients and cast a shadow over 
their livelihood. By the late 1700s, manufacturers in Norwich, England, 
and Edinburgh, Scotland, had started experimenting with making shawls 
that imitated the Kashmiri luxury examples in appearance and texture. 79 

Accessing quantities of wool that were as lavishly soft as the pashm ^ 

sourced from Tibet proved impossible, despite attempts to naturalize and 88 

rear the Tibetan mountain goats in the British Isles. 2 Searches for alterna¬ 
tives led entrepreneurs from Norwich and Edinburgh to the Scottish town 
of Paisley, a former center of fancy-silk-gauze weaving that had been hit by 
a depression in the early 1800s and was ready for new ventures. 3 

Woven around 1815, RISD’s shawl exemplifies the earlyyears of Pais¬ 
ley’s shawl production. Since the mid-eighteenth century, silk weavers in 
Paisley had enjoyed immense prestige as community leaders known for 
their skill, education, and increasing wealth. Their product—a delicate, 
transparent gauze made of raw silk imported from China and Piedmont, 

Italy—was exported throughout Europe and into Russia and even favored 
at the court of Marie Antoinette in France. 4 As the demand for silk gauze 
faded due to the vagaries of fashion, Paisley’s weavers rallied their fan- 
cy-silk-weaving skills to the new vogue for shawls made in imitation of the 
extravagant Kashmiri imports. By the 1820s, Paisley exported its shawls 
to Turkey, Persia, and even India, selling there as “Paisley Kashmir.” 5 
By 1840, this enterprise had proven so successful that shawl weaving 
developed into the town’s sole industry, a trade that flourished until the 
demise of the fashion for shawls in the 1870s. 

In material and structure, RISD’s Scottish shawl differs considerably 
from the Kashmiri originals. First, it is made primarily of silk, the fiber 
that Paisley artisans were accustomed to weaving, and a thread much 
stronger than wool substitutes for pashm. Silk also has 
a hand, or touch, that best approximated the soft sup¬ 
pleness of the Tibetan mountain goat’s undercoat. Later 
refinements to the thread production included wrapping 
fine wool or even pashm around a silk core to better imi¬ 
tate the original. As an early example that predates such 


Portrait of a Courtier, Bijapur School, 
ca. 1610-1620. 

Opaque watercolor, ink, and gold on paper. 
British Museum BM ME OA1937 4-10.03 
© The Trustees of the British Museum 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

experiments, RISD’s shawl includes a central white field 
that comprises silk in both warp and weft directions, 
while the patterned ends incorporate colored wool in 
addition to silk to delineate the motifs. 

Structurally, the pattern emerges from a specialized 
hand-operated loom called a drawloom, a piece of equip¬ 
ment thought to have originated in East Asia and used 
for centuries across Asia, the Middle East, and Europe to create complex 
woven textiles. Instead of weaving the design by hand in blocks of color, 
as was done in Kashmir, the drawloom weaver relied on the loom’s pat¬ 
terning harnesses, manipulated by a weaver’s assistant called a draw boy, 
to articulate the pattern as the wefts were laid in the horizontal direction. 
A diagonal twill-weave structure mimics the look of the Kashmiri twill tap¬ 
estry shawls, but a close look shows the pattern issuing from the harness 
system as an exact repeat across the width of the textile, appearing almost 
pixilated, in contrast to the miniscule and unique variations that inevi¬ 
tably result from the Kashmiri process likened to “painting with thread” 
[Fig. 5]. Hence the comparatively disciplined march of the floral motifs, 
nonetheless replete with vegetation, which, at the time this shawl was 
woven, had not yet acquired the name “paisley.” 

The history of the shawl’s stylized floral motif—which over hundreds 
of years developed into a teardrop shape with a curling tip—stretches 
much further back in time than the period in which this example was pro¬ 
duced, and its origins lie much farther afield. Before the motif became so 
closely entwined with the town of Paisley in the mid-nineteenth century, 
it was labeled “pine” or “cone” (even by the weavers in Paisley), “tadpole” 
in France, and “little onion” in Vienna. In India in more recent years, it 
has also been likened to the fruit of a mango tree, as well as to a gourd or 
pitcher plant, but in India and Iran it has traditionally and most consist¬ 
ently been called boteh , meaning “flower.” 

Some scholars theorize that the boteh developed in the ancient Near 
East, specifically Babylon, from the shape of a bird’s wing or leaf form 
that evolved into the representation of the young shoot of a date palm, 
considered to symbolize the tree of life. Others track the beginnings of 
the Kashmiri boteh to the image of a single flowering plant, established in 
Persian art by the 1600s and soon after blossoming in textiles produced in 
northern India under the patronage of Mughal emperors. Whether origi¬ 
nating in leaf or flower, the boteh became more elaborate as it crossed cul¬ 
tures and as weavers and other artisans incorporated it into the designs of 
objects made to suit the tastes of a variety of consumers across Asia, the 
Middle East, and Europe. 6 


Horace Vernet, illustrator 
French, 1789-1863 

Illustration from the Journal des Dames 
et des Modes, 1802/1803 
Engraving on wove paper, hand colored 
21.3 x 13.5 cm. (8 3 /s * 5 5 /ie in.) 

Museum collection INV2004.506 

Object Lesson 



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Give and Take 


Scottish, probably Paisley 
Shawl (detail), early 19th century 
Silk twill weave with wool and silk 
supplementary weft patterning 
Length: 308.6 cm. (121 y 2 in.) 

Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth 34.797 

The early designs of the boteh in 
Kashmiri pashm textiles in particular illus¬ 
trate the fluid exchange between Indian 
Mughal and Persian court cultures from the 
1600s, as well as the influence of European 
herbals, or botanical drawings, that were cir¬ 
culated, studied, and admired within Mughal 
court workshops. In an early eighteenth- 
century example [Fig. 6], we see naturalis- 
tically depicted flowering shrubs or stalks 
with just a hint of the plant leaning to one 
side at the top, a style that developed into the 
primary way of drawing the boteh beginning 
in the nineteenth century. As the eighteenth 
century progressed, the plant becomes heav¬ 
ier and more bulbous in shape at the bottom, 
and begins to show an impossible variety 
of flowers issuing from its branches. By the 
early nineteenth century, when RISD’s shawl 
was woven, vegetation increasingly blossoms 
within the boteh motifs, also invading the 
spaces between [Fig. 7]. As the century pro¬ 
gressed, the boteh became almost entirely 
subsumed under the density of pattern upon 
5 floral pattern—highly stylized and a far cry 

from its earliest predecssors. 

The evolution of the boteh motif, as described above, resulted from 
the tastes of the successive Mughal, Afghan, and Sikh ruling elite in 
Kashmir, who controlled and subsidized the workshops from the late 
sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, as well as from the specific 
preferences of the diverse and wide-ranging consumers who by the nine¬ 
teenth century spanned the world from the East Asia to the Middle East, 
Europe, and North America. Kashmiri and Indian artisans elaborated 
upon an ancient tree-of-life foundational image, but with the input of a 
multiplicity of consumer demands in regard to shape, color, material, 
and density of pattern. Thus, when English, Scottish, and French weavers 
sought to capture their own share in this market by replicating the pat¬ 
tern and design format of Kashmiri shawls, they were claiming a product 
that was, in part, shaped by their own home markets. The focus in this 
artisanal tug-of-war lies not necessarily in the motif aesthetic—whether it 

Object Lesson 

is boteh , paisley, or pine—but rather in the questions (judged by consum¬ 
ers, merchants, and design critics) of who made a better product and who 
produced it faster (and therefore more economically). 

By creating their product on the drawloom, Paisley weavers in the 
first decades of the 1800s produced shawls much more quickly than their 
Kashmiri counterparts. (This process would become even more efficient 
with the widespread adoption of the jacquard loom by the 1830s.) The 
drawloom’s mechanism, however, limited them to creating relatively 
stilted and rigid versions of the Kashmiri motifs. And none of the materi¬ 
als at hand, even silk, came close to approximating the warmth and ethe¬ 
real waft of pashm. Sometimes so-called “Thibet wool” (imported pashm 
fibers) was incorporated to mimic the texture, but, as one of Walter Scott’s 83 

fictional characters notes in his 1827 novella The Surgeon’s Daughter, the ^ 

differences in quality from the Kashmiri examples marked them as the 88 

“imitative operatives of Paisley.” 7 By most period accounts, differences 
between Paisley and Kashmiri shawls were most discernible, and the lat¬ 
ter were regarded as superior. This was accentuated by the fact that they 
were costly and thus more exclusive. 

FIG. 6 5 

Indian (possibly Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh) 

Man’s Sash (Patka), early 1700s 
Cotton plain weave with silk satin-stitch 

Length: 263.5 cm. (103 % in.) 

Bequest of Miss Lucy T. Aldrich 55.276 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 


Scottish, probably Paisley 
Shawl (detail), early 19th century 
Silk twill weave with wool and silk 
supplementary weft patterning 
Length: 308.6 cm. (121 Vz in.) 

Gift of Mrs. Murray S. Danforth 34.797 

By the mid-nineteenth century, Paisley weavers had embraced the jac¬ 
quard loom, speeding up production. With this new technology, workers 
who drew the patterns and plotted them out to be woven on the loom were 
able to delineate designs so intricate that Kashmiri weavers were forced 
to compete by speeding up their process, adding embroidery to their 
shawls or piecing together parts woven by several individuals to make a 
whole. Despite these innovations, British design reformers and popular- 
fiction writers (such as Walter Scott) nonetheless touted the Kashmiri 
shawls as exemplary products that, in their view, represented pure and 
traditional culture untainted by the base commercial interests of their 
countrymen. As stated by the author of “Shams and Imitations, especially 
in woven fabrics” a report in the Journal of Design and Manufactures 
published in 1851, the British imitations of cashmere shawls, in particular 
printed versions, were “a sort of material falsehood,” plain and simple. 8 
Credence and favor were directed toward the Kashmiri “original” that put 
the so-called mass-produced imitations to shame. 

Design arbiters’ criticism of Scottish 
and English shawls simulating Indian 
precedents grew into full-fledged outcry by 
mid-century, fueled by those wealthy few 
threatened by the wider availability of luxuries 
once only accessible within their tight circles. 
In these decades, increasingly mechanized 
shawl production in Scotland would spark 
conversations and criticism of the types of 
designs classified as imitations and fakes, 
or, alternatively, as quality products of “good 
design.” Woven circa 1815, a shawl such as 
the one investigated here, on the other hand, 
would have been perceived when it was made 
as referencing, perhaps even slyly mimicking, 
riches from lands far away, but not with the 
purpose of misleading the consumer. It would 
have fallen into the category of yet another 
iteration in a long-established network of 
cross-cultural exchanges made in response 
to commercial interests spanning the globe. 
Just as Persian weavers sought to reproduce 
India’s luxury shawls for their home market 
in the same period, so did English, French, 
and Scottish weavers attempt the same. 


Object Lesson 

Paisley weavers adapted their expertise to survive and prosper in a 
changing, increasingly industrialized world, weathering criticism from 
design pundits along the way—as did the Kashmiri weavers, concurrently. 

Sadly, both centers of artisanal production collapsed in the 1870s as Euro- 
American women’s fashions changed significantly enough to obviate the 
need for a loosely swathing shawl, and as demand in other parts of world 
waned as well. In Paisley, cotton spinning and weaving supplanted the 
silk industry through the mid-twentieth century, but today even that work 
has disappeared, leaving historical markers but no living textile industry. 

Situated in a region mired in violent political conflict, the Kashmiri textile 
industry has also faded into the background even as its namesake fiber— 
cashmere—has surged in popularity and accessibility in recent years. 85 

The RISD Museum’s Paisley shawl quietly tells a significant story of ^ 

interwoven, sometimes snarled, threads that intersect with diverse global 88 

narratives connecting Scottish and Kashmiri weavers across time and 
space. Notwithstanding its place within an increasingly tangled web, it 
cannot be argued that outright attempts to deceive the consumer played 
a role in the making of early Paisley shawls such as RISD’s. A product of 
the initial years of Paisley’s shawl-weaving enterprise, RISD’s shawl repre¬ 
sents an earnest effort by talented weavers to revive local industry by rid¬ 
ing the wave of fashion and building on preexisting, fruitful cross-cultural 
dialogues between producer, merchant, and consumer. 



1 For more information on Kashmiri pashmina shawls see: Frank Ames, The 
Kashmir Shawl and Its Indo-French Influence (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique 
Collector's Club, 1986); Steven Cohen, et al., Kashmir Shawls: The Tapi Collection 
(Mumbai: The Shoestring Publisher, 2012); and Janet Rizvi and Monisha Ahmed, 
Pashmina: The Kashmir Shawl and Beyond (Mumbai: Marg Publications, 2009). 

2 Valerie Reilly, The Illustrated History of the Paisley Shawl, rev. ed. (Glasgow: 
Richard Drew, 1996), 20-21. 

3 Ibid. 

4 Kimberly Chrisman Campbell, "Paisley Before the Shawl: The Scottish Silk 
Gauze Industry,” Textile History 33, no. 2 (2002). 

5 Pamela Clabburn, “British Shawls in the Indian Style,” in Frank Ames, The 

Kashmir Shawl and Its Indo-French Influence (1986; repr., Woodbridge, UK: 
Antique Collectors’ Club, 2004), 245. 

6 For further discussion of the evolution of the boteh motif, see Ames, The 
Kashmir Shawl. 

7 Suchitra Choudhury, "‘It Was an Imitashon to be Sure’: The Imitation Indian 
Shawl in Design Reform and Imaginative Fiction,” Textile History 46, no. 2 
(November 2015), 189. 

8 As quoted in Choudhury, "It Was an Imitashon to be Sure,” 197. 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 

Conservation is a reciprocal process. It begins with 
listening to an object: considering the craftsmanship 
and intent of those who made it and assessing its 
needs. A conservator then responds with a treatment 
that will support the object’s long-term preservation 
without altering its original character. 

This early nineteenth-century dress was hand¬ 
made from Indian cotton in a style popular at the time 
throughout Europe and the United States. The cotton 
is lightweight and sheer, composed of finely spun 
yarns in a loose plain weave. Crafting a garment from 
such delicate fabric required care and precision, and 
the result is a diaphanous, striking representation 
of the time period in which it was made. The maker’s 
skill is visible in tiny, accurate hand stitches and 
extensive embroidery. Historical repairs, including a 
small darned hole along the neckline, reflect a similar 
sensitivity to the fabric and its needs. 

Photos 1-4 courtesy of the author 

Historical cottons are susceptible to damage 
from many sources, including light, moisture, acidic 
storage conditions, and improper handling. Any of 
these factors could have contributed to several long, 
jagged tears along the right shoulder. Before the 
dress can be mounted for display, we must support 
these tears, decreasing the likelihood that they will 
worsen over time. The ideal treatment approach will 
honor the innate qualities of this remarkable fabric 
and the dressmaker’s skill, offering longevity and 
support without detracting from the garment’s struc¬ 
ture or appearance. 

American or European 
Dress, ca. 1805 

Cotton muslin with embroidery 
Length: 132.1 cm. (52 in.) 

Gift of Henry D. Ginsburg in honor of Cora Ginsburg 


Photo 4 

Secure torn areas with “laid and couched” 
stitching: a length of thread is laid across the 
tear and tacked into place. Stitch primarily 
through the backing fabric when possible to 
avoid further damaging the dress fabric. 

< Photo 1 (the shoulder before treatment) 
Conservation treatments should be reversible, 
well documented, and minimally invasive. 

The technique used to repair this damage 
should be as sheer as the garment itself, while 
providing structural stability. 

Photo 2 

Cut a piece of silk crepeline—a very sheer, 
plain-woven support fabric—to the size and 
shape you need. This piece, called an underlay, 
will be attached to the inside of the dress to 
support the damaged area. 

Photo 3 

Attach the underlay below the tears with thin 
entomology pins—these will not leave visible 
holes in the dress fabric. Sew the underlay 
into place with small running stitches, using a 
fine hair-silk thread. It is best to conceal your 
stitches in stable, visually unobtrusive areas 
of the garment, such as binding, seams, and 
embroidered motifs. 


Manual Spring 2017 

Give and Take 




Globe-Shaped Work Table, 1810-1820 
Mahogany veneer, burled mahogany veneer, oak, 
ebony, boxwood, brass, pewter, mother of pearl, 
ivory, tortoiseshell, mirror, paint, engravings, velvet 
Height: 97.8 cm. (3814 in.) 

Gift of Mrs. Henry D. Sharpe 65.065 

( 2 ) 

Rafael Ferrer 
American, b. 1933 

The Balata River: “In the mountains, there 
you feel free" (El Rio Balata: "En las montanas 
te sientes libre”), 1988 
Oil on canvas 

182.9 x 244.2 x 2.9 cm. (72 x 96% x 1 % in.) 

Nancy Sayles Day Collection of Modern Latin 
American Art 1989.034 

Art © Rafael Ferrer/Licensed by VAGA, 

New York, NY 


Gertrude Kasebier 
American, 1852-1934 
Baron De Meyer with Cat, 1903 
Platinum print 

15.9 x 15.6 cm. ( 6 % x 6 in.) 

Florence Koehler Collection 49.017.1 


Christien Meindertsma 
Dutch, b. 1980 

White sweater (cardigan), 2005 

Hand-knit Merino wool 

Center back length: 88.9 cm. (35 in.) 

Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 2009.22.3 


Dave Cole 
American, b. 1975 

American Flag (Toy Soldiers #72), 2002 
Acrylic on wood panel, plastic soldiers 
46 x 83.5 x 9.2 cm. (18% x 32 % x 35/3 in .) 

Gift of Dr. Armand Versaci 2003.119 
© Dave Cole 

( 6 ) 

American (made at RISD) 

Take Stock America!, 1969 
Color screenprint on wove paper 
57.1 x 44.8 cm. (22% x 17% in.) 

Gift of Joseph R. and Nadine F. Thomasson 


Scott Lapham 
American, b. 1968 

Providence Cold Storage #7, Demolished 7 999, 1999 

Gelatin silver print 

Image: 38.1 x 48.3 cm. (15 x 19 in.) 

Gift from the Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph A. 
Chazan 2005.132.5 
© Scott Lapham 

( 8 ) 

R. Buckminster Fuller, designer 

American, 1895-1983 

Undersea Island-Submarisle, 1981 

From the portfolio Inventions: Twelve Around One 

Screenprint on two sheets: top on clear polyester film; 

bottom on Lenox rag paper 

Sheets: 76.2 x 101.6 cm. (30 x 40 in.) 

Gift of Hasbro, Inc. 1994.050.9A 
Courtesy, Carl Solway Gallery and The Estate 
of R. Buckminster Fuller 


J. W. Watts 

American, active 1850 
After Henry Walker Herrick 
American, 1824-1906 

Reading the Emancipation Proclamation, 1864 
Etching, engraving, and aquatint on wove paper 
Sheet: 48.9 cm. x 57.8 cm. (19% x 22% in.) 

The Patricia Carroll Fitzgerald Mandel Print Collection 

( 10 ) 

Jacob Lawrence 
American, 1917-2000 

'1920’s... The Migrants Cast Their Ballots, 1974 
From the Kent Bicentennial Portfolio: 

Spirit of Independence 
Color screenprint on paper 
Image: 81.3 x 61.9 cm. (32 x 24% in.) 

Gift of Lorillard 76.116 

© 2017 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence 
Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), 

New York 

( 11 ) 

Jean Blackburn 
American, b. 1957 
Template, 2002 

Oil paint on wood, smaller chair cut from the larger 
Large chair: 109.2 x 50.8 x 76.2 cm. (43 x 20 x 30 in.) 
Museum purchase: gift of Joseph A. Chazan, MD 2013.3 
© Jean Blackburn 

( 12 ) 

Harry Callahan 
American, 1912-1999 
Chicago, 1953 (printed later) 

Dye-transfer print 

Image: 22.2 x 34.3 cm. ( 8 %! x 13% in.) 

Gift of Manny and Skippy Gerard 2003.148.3 
© The Estate of Harry Callahan; 
courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York 





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